With the countdown to the 2002 elections on the U.S. mainland now being measured in days and hours, most candidates are in a flurry of last minute fundraising to finance media advertising and efforts to "get-out-the-vote" on November 5th. Much is at stake. Control of the House of Representatives and Senate is within the reach of both major parties, with Republicans emerging from their previously gloomy mood as opinion polling began to show that they could pull off such a result, while Democrats, grasping for the same result, tried to turn the talk away from Iraq and homeland security to education, health insurance and other social issues more compatible with their campaign platforms. Governorships and State legislative seats are also in play throughout the nation.
This years campaigning follows a binge of fundraising for both parties, with President Bush pulling in several million dollars at every "rubber chicken" event that he attends, and he has been wearing out his tux over the last several months. The Democrats are not far behind in raking in the largesse of their supporters, with bloodhounds from the Congressional leadership and former President Clinton sniffing out the fat wallets within their party. This feeding frenzy for dollars comes as politicians and their party structures are gearing up for the implementation of the McCain-Feingold/Shays-Meehan Campaign Finance Reform Law, that is now on the books and will become effective after this Novembers voting.
Essentially the law will ban "soft money," those unlimited contributions by corporations, unions and individuals directed to political parties for distribution to political candidates at will. Remaining legal will be individual contributions to political candidates up to $2,000.00. Cynics are sure that the "pols" will find loopholes through which willing illegal dollars can jump to campaign bank accounts and the law will surely be challenged as an abridgment of the political speech guarantees of the U.S. Constitution. Supporters are content that the law is at least a start in reducing the influence of great wealth in the political process.
In Puerto Rico, the same objectives are being approached in a radically different manner. In order to respond to the recent allegations, charges and convictions for bribes, kickbacks and influence peddling by government officials, Governor Sila Calderon has proposed legislation to have the island government pay the costs of all political campaigns for all offices throughout the island. The estimated price tag for the scheme is 60 million dollars, a sum that has legislators of the two major political parties quaking in their boots. With the island budget in deficit and the economy tanking, most dont want to take the political heat from constituents, already expressing complaints that it is nothing more than a government "give-away" to politicians.
The tiny and traditionally under-funded PIP (Puerto Rican Independence Party) is aglow at the prospect of the laws passage, since it would give its candidates an equal sum for their campaigns as those of the PDP (Popular Democratic Party) and the NPP (New Progressive Party). State Elections Commission President Aurelio García, a Calderón appointee, called the proposed legislation "too expensive" and "ineffective." The Governor, however, is persistent and will likely put her weight behind the proposal, to make it become effective in 2004 or, if that is not possible, for the 2008 elections.
In a previous Hot Button Issue Poll, seven out of ten respondents expressed displeasure at the idea of Puerto Rican taxpayers footing the bill for elections on the island. This week, the Herald invites readers to express their views on the proposals potential to be effective in attacking the endemic corruption that has long surrounded the political process in Puerto Rico.