Flanked by slabs of pork ribs, Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Pat Shea on Thursday offered up a smorgasbord of campaign reform, including limiting PAC money in federal campaigns and requiring congressional candidates to hold at least six debates.
That could be five more debates than Shea gets with Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, this year. Hatch so far has agreed only to a single debate - tentatively scheduled for mid-October, although Hatch aides say he may agree to four more.Shea had little good to say during his campaign reform press conference about Hatch's campaigning or his 18-year tenure. "The people and press should ask Senator Hatch three questions: How is it that since he went to the Senate his personal worth has increased 10-fold? How could he become a PAC millionaire (raising $1 million from PACs) and not be influenced by them? Why won't he hold a series of debates?"
Shea, a Rhodes scholar who prides himself on his rational intellect and measured style, rather sheepishly admitted that he never envisioned himself standing behind slabs of pork ribs, which he says symbolize the pork Hatch has accumulated in public service, as part of his Senate campaign.
"I asked Senator Hatch in March to agree to a wide range of exchanges, including 10 debates around the state and a discussion of ideas in the newspapers. He's refused. I can't find him. He won't even take my calls on a radio talk show." So now Shea calls news conferences and stacks up meat.
Actually, Shea's ideas on federal campaign reform are detailed and far-reaching. They would take away many advantages for incumbents and so may not receive a warm welcome in Washington.
- Limit PAC contributions to 20 percent of a candidate's total fund raising and drop individual PAC contributions from $10,000 an election cycle to $1,000.
- Give financial incentives for a candidate to raise money within his district or state.
- Limit so-called "soft money" contributions to local and national political parties.
- Remove the current tax breaks given PACs and lobbyists.
- Shorten the campaign season by limiting when fund-raisers could be held and limit when paid media advertisements could run.
- Place voluntary limits on the amount rich candidates can give their own campaigns (and heavily tax their campaign funds if they exceed the limits).
- Stop bundling of contributions by special interest groups.
- Stop free mailing privileges by members of Congress up for re-election.
- Penalize negative advertising.
- Require a set number of public debates.
"These are substantive reforms, none of which require or ask for public financing of campaigns," said Shea.
Indeed, Hatch and fellow Republicans in Congress have continually voted against various Democratic-sponsored campaign reform measures because they include taxpayer "matching funds" as an incentive to limit campaign spending. Democratic campaign reform packages were passed in 1991 and 1992 but were vetoed by former GOP President George Bush. Campaign reform measures have passed both the House and Senate this year but are bottled up in conferences committee and probably won't become law.
One of Shea's more interesting ideas is to set spending limits for each House and Senate race. Shea would limit Utah Senate races to $1.5 million.
Hatch has already spent $2 million as of June, says Shea, and Hatch will likely spend $4 million on his re-election this year. Under Shea's plan, if Hatch spent $4 million, he'd have to pay corporate income tax rates on the extra $2.5 million - and more than $833,000 of his war chest would go to federal income taxes.
Ironically, Shea proposes that such taxes be earmarked to offset the cost of six debates that each race would be required to hold - thus Hatch would be forced to pay for the debates he may not want.