Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism
Op-Ed: Religious Leaders Demand Ethical System of Governance

The following is an op-ed that was submitted to major newspapers across the United States and signed by Reverend Joan Brown Campbell, General Secretary, National Council of Churches of Christ and Rabbi David Saperstein, Director and Counsel, Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism.

From our local 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 very essence of the ethical and moral life of our nation. The effects of present campaign finance practices are pernicious as 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 that structurally and systematically favors the richest among us?

The temptation to use money to buy unjust favors is an ancient one. The prophet Amos thundered against those merchants in Israel who "...sell the righteous for silver and the needy for a pair of shoes...and push the afflicted out of the way..." (Amos 2:6-7 NRSV). Psalm 15 defines upright persons as those who "...stand by their oath even to their hurt...and do not take a bribe against the innocent." The current campaign finance system runs afoul of these common religious traditions which ensure justice and equity for all by creating every incentive for politicians to give priority to those special interests who have made campaign donations. Any system that forces elected officials to spend their time raising money rather than raising the moral consciousness of our nation cannot meet the values or interests of the United States or its faith communities.

Moreover, for good and just government to work, citizens must have faith and hope that their vote counts in the face of dominant economic interests. House Speaker Dennis Hastert's lack of political will in calling an immediate vote on the Shays-Meehan bill signals to citizens, correctly or incorrectly, that someone's interests other than their own are being served by this legislative sleight of hand. Holding a vote on this bill, which would ban unregulated and unlimited donations to political parties and which passed by a large margin in the last Congress, would be a manifest demonstration on the part of Congress that the members are there to serve the common good, not the special interests. It now seems likely that the Senate will begin debating its own campaign finance reform bill, McCain-Feingold, before the House even gets to Shays-Meehan.

Religious communities, however, are not piously waiting for our political leaders to take action on campaign finance reform. In addition to our support for the Shays-Meehan and McCain-Feingold bills, religious communities around the country are agitating on behalf of more comprehensive reform. We were instrumental in passing full public financing measures in Arizona, Maine, Vermont and Massachusetts over the past two years and look forward to working with citizens in other states who are considering similar ballot measures. We believe that the advantages of wealth must be balanced by a respect for the inherent worth and dignity of all people, regardless of their material circumstances. Only comprehensive reform, which breaks the power of money in elections, can restore the public trust that has been eroded by the present corrupt system of campaign finance.

Indeed, religion means for us God's mandate for the well-being of all people. We have long sought "the common good." We have long stood against religious self-seeking or the private advantage of any religious group. It is not our "good" we seek; it is the "common good."

As religious communities dedicated to the values of our traditions, we demand reform of the campaign finance system. We demand an ethical system of governance that works towards the common good.

— Reverend Joan Brown Campbell, General Secretary,

    National Council of Churches of Christ

— Rabbi David Saperstein, Director and Counsel,
    Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism

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    The Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism is the Washington office of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations, representing its 895 congregations across North America, whose membership includes 1.5 million Reform Jews, and the 1700 rabbis of the Central Conference of American Rabbis.

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