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Statement Of Rabbi David Saperstein Director, Religious Action Center Of Reform Judaism Interreligious Press Conference On Campaign Finance Reform
February 13, 1997

I am Rabbi David Saperstein, Director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, and I am here today representing the Union of American Hebrew Congregations and the Central Conference of American Rabbis. These two organizations represent 1.5 million Reform Jews and 1800 rabbis in more than 850 congregations throughout the United States and Canada. Our call for comprehensive campaign finance reform is reflective of the views of many mainstream religious communities, as evidenced by the diverse coalition assembled this morning. From the pews and pulpits of our churches and synagogues across the nation, we hear that campaign finance reform is not an esoteric technical issue of election regulations, but one that goes to the essence of the ethical and moral life of our nation.

We stand here today to call on Congress and the Administration to be a "light to our nation," to assert ethical standards in all aspects of political life—including the financing of political campaigns. The model of the Jewish tradition teaches us that ethical pronouncements alone are not sufficient. Ethical standards must inform the daily life of our societal institutions. It is in this context that we assert the importance of devising a fair system of campaign financing, a system far different than the current one.

The effects of present practices are pernicious, for they reduce voter access to elected officials, erode moral standards in government agencies and institutions, and breed distrust and alienation. No wonder public skepticism is so rampant. How can we ever expect a fair result if the very rules of the game are unfair? How can we expect morally-sound public policy when the system itself ensures disproportionate influence for the most powerful? How can we—whose religious calling includes the imperative to speak for the widow and the orphan, for the poor and the children—accept an electoral process which structurally and systematically favors the richest among us. How can we acquiesce in a system which forces those who seek public office, or who wish to continue in public service, to spend so much of their precious time and energy not raising the nation's moral conscience but raising campaign funds. We cannot accept such a system. And I am proud to be here today, joining the leaders of many religious faiths, to say that we will not.

We will not accept the current system which generates disproportionate influence to those with deep pockets and bulging wallets, undermining the principles of equal opportunity for all who seek the privilege of public office;

We will not accept the current system which reduces voter access to elected leaders; reserving the meeting rooms of Congress and the wings of the White House primarily for those who offer the greatest monetary rewards;

We will not accept the current system which holds public policy hostage to special interests.

Today, in this Congress, we have an historic opportunity. With the leadership of Senators John McCain, Russ Feingold, and Fred Thompson, along with Representatives Chris Shays and Marty Meehan, we are coming closer to comprehensive reform than ever before. The Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 1997 would be an important and meaningful step toward a fairer, more just system of financing campaigns. It would reduce special interest contributions, set voluntary spending limits, increase public campaign resources, and ban soft money. We ask the 105th Congress to put aside partisanship. For if this Congress really wishes to be remembered for improving our nation's political system, enhancing our moral quality of life, and building a better America, then little it could do would lay a stronger foundation than campaign finance reform. In addition, we ask the Administration and the bipartisan Congressional leadership to add campaign finance reform to its recently released list of top-priority initiatives. In fact, without real reform, we are doomed to face election cycle after election cycle full of races just as driven by money and as alienating to the voters as so many were this past year.

We call on our elected leaders to stand firm and work toward the creation of a more ethical campaign financing system, a system which will reinforce rather than tarnish the principles of American democracy, a system which can help salvage our collective faith in public service. We pledge our vigorous support in this historic effort.

The Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism is the Washington office of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations and the Central Conference of American Rabbis representing 1.5 million Reform Jews and 1,800 Reform rabbis in more than 850 congregations throughout North America.

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