03/23/2011 10:29 am ET Updated May 25, 2011


The tsunami in Japan brings to mind the tsunami of money in politics that prevents getting anything done in Washington. In my last campaign in 1998 for re-election to the United States Senate, I had to raise $8.5 million. Eight and a half million dollars amounts to $30,000 a week, each week, every week, for six years. It's not just raising money the year before the election, but all six years. For this amount you have to travel the country and depend upon your colleagues and committees in Washington. You collect money for your colleagues so that the colleagues can help you when you're up for re-election.

Today, you have to buy the office. And the rich have the advantage. The Senator from New Jersey bought it with $60 million of his own money, and the Mayor of New York bought it with $70 million of his own money. I know the rich lady in California lost, but Jerry Brown, the winner, still had to substantially buy it.

The concerted effort to raise money now controls the Senator's time and vote. You might not have many farmers in your state, but you can't risk voting against agriculture. The Midwest farmers will call the farm leadership in your state and finance your defeat. That's why no one opposed the billions of agriculture subsidies included in the New Orleans-Katrina bill even though Katrina missed the Northwest. Oil, abortion, planned parenthood, gun control, free trade, etc., are ready to organize against you. When it comes to taxes, a majority of the Republicans are committed against taxes to Grover Norquist, Americans for Tax Reform. We raised taxes without a single Republican vote in 1993 and the nation had eight years of the its best economy. We gave President Bush a balanced budget and "surpluses as far as the eye can see." When President Bush started cutting taxes, the Democrats joined in because they lost the Congress in 1994. Now both parties are playing the game of cutting taxes and not paying for government. As Vice-President Cheney said: "Deficits don't matter."

On February 27, 2001, President Bush boasted that his budget plan would pay off the national debt in ten years. Instead, he doubled the debt in eight years. Now President Obama has joined the tax cut follies adding $3 trillion to the debt. To understand this reckless conduct, one should realize that the federal government paid for the depression and all its wars for two hundred and twenty-five years before reaching a $5 trillion debt in 2000. President Bush doubled the debt to $10 trillion in eight years, and President Obama plans to add another $5 trillion in four years.

Fundraisers are being held in Washington at breakfast, lunch, and dinner. We have fundraisers on weekends somewhere in the country or in one's state. The Senate schedule has been adjusted for fundraising. We never had a break for St. Patrick's Day or Columbus Day, but now we have fundraising breaks for St. Patrick's Day, Easter, Memorial Day, Fourth of July, the month of August, Labor Day, and Columbus Day. On Washington's Birthday some junior Senator would read Washington's farewell address at noon and we'd have debates and votes in the afternoon. Now we have merged Lincoln's and Washington's birthdays into a ten-day break so that we can go to California or New York for fundraising. Policy committee luncheons are canceled to make calls for money. The majority of one's time in the Congress is spent on the needs of the campaign rather than the needs of the country.

I remember one evening the Republicans had a fundraiser downtown for my opponent, and every Republican on my Commerce Committee except Senator Ted Stevens attended. When I learned this, I felt that "if they wanted to get rid of me, I wanted to get rid of them." The U.S. Senate is organized on a party basis, and the two political parties are collecting money against each other. This explains the partisanship.

We could dispel the tsunami of money in politics by limiting spending in elections like Congress did in 1971 and 1973. Maurice Stans was raising cash and threatening individuals with President Nixon's disfavor if they didn't pony-up. It looked like the presidency was up for sale. We limited spending by a substantial bi-partisan vote in both Houses of Congress, and President Nixon signed the Act. But in a 5-4 decision in Buckley vs. Valeo, the Supreme Court amended the first amendment to the Constitution. It equated speech with money. James Madison never intended for the freedom of speech to be limited or measured by money. A simple Constitutional amendment authorizing "Congress to regulate or control spending in federal elections" is needed to restore Madison's intent. Senator Specter joined me in a Constitutional amendment to control spending, and we received bi-partisan support, but never the two-thirds required for a Joint Resolution. I can hear Senator Specter arguing the case. He stated he had limited funds, but an affluent brother. His opponent was more than affluent, and Specter had a difficult time. His brother was ready, willing and able to match the opposition's financing, but in the distorted Buckley opinion contributors were limited but candidates were not. Rich candidates have free speech, but poor and middle class candidates' speech is limited. And today contributors' speech is limited, except corporations, which can buy the election. The Governors' Conference asked that I amend my proposal to include state elections. So I have no doubt of the states' approval of this Constitutional amendment.

A Constitutional amendment authorizing the Congress to regulate or control spending will eliminate the tsunami of money in politics. Then the influence of lobbyists would be limited; partisanship would be limited; the control of Congress would be limited, and Congressmen and Senators would have time to deliberate, talk to each other, and take care of the needs of the country.