Statement of Mark J. Pelavin, Associate Director, Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism and Co-Chair Religious Leaders for Campaign Finance Reform at Press Event Promoting Shays-Meehan Bill
July 10, 2001
On behalf of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations and the Central Conference of American Rabbis, their 900 congregations and 1700 rabbis, and the 1.5 million Reform Jews throughout the United States and Canada, I am proud to be here today with Representatives Shays and Meehan, as well as Senators McCain and Feingold and this remarkable coalition, to add our voice to those calling for the House of Representatives to pass the Shays-Meehan campaign finance reform legislation.
Shays-Meehan, of course, has passed the House twice before, by wide bipartisan margins. Yet never before have we seen the Senate courageously uphold their end of the bargain. Never before have we seen a group of powerful legislators so committed to ending the status quo. Never before have we seen as widespread and demanding a public appeal to lawmakers to place the public interest above their own. This, then, is the time to seize the opportunity for a historic change in whose voices are allowed to determine our political decision-making.
Campaign finance reform is not an esoteric technical issue of election regulations, but something that goes to the essence of the ethical and moral life of our nation. We are today mindful of the biblical imperative to speak for the widow, the orphan, and the stranger; for the poor and for the children; for those who are all too often unable to make themselves heard. How can we then accept an electoral system that structurally and systematically favors the richest among us, a system in which one quarter of one percent of the population supplies 80 percent of campaign contributions? How can we acquiesce in a system that forces those who seek public office, or who wish to continue in public service, to spend so much of their precious time and energy raising campaign funds instead of raising the nation's moral conscience?
We know that potent obstacles still stand in the path of reform. Having had their policies defeated and spirits deflated in the Senate, opponents of reform view the House floor as their final battleground. They will offer "poison pill" amendments that, if passed, could send the bill to a potentially devastating conference committee. They will mobilize behind flawed alternative legislation that is reform in name only.
I want to add a special word to those still watching this critical debate from the sidelines. I know that the discussion about campaign finance reform can quickly become a technical and confusing one. I know that, for example, the distinction between "hard" and "soft" money is not self-evident. But I want you to know that whatever issue it is that you care about most deeply - health care, education, protecting the environment, civil rights enforcement, economic development or foreign policy - that issue is, in a very real sense, being decided as the House votes on Shay-Meehan. On every issue today, money and campaign contributions determine whose voice gets heard. And whose voice gets heard often determines the outcome.
We have come too far to let this moment slip away from us. We urge members of the House of Representatives to step up and end the excesses that are corroding our nation's electoral system, and to begin the arduous but essential process of restoring public trust in government.
Congress must no longer postpone these reforms. 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. The time to act is now.
The Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism is the Washington office of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations (UAHC), whose 900 congregations across North America encompass 1.5 million Reform Jews, and the Central Conference of American Rabbis (CCAR) whose membership includes over 1700 Reform rabbis.