The Compass: Official Newspaper of the Catholic Diocese of Green Bay
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April 6, 2001 Issue
Eye on the Capitol

Campaign reform won't hurt pro-life

Attitudes are changing in favor of life, despite all the inequalities

By John Huebscher

First, a disclaimer. In my spare time, I serve on the Board of the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, an organization that supports the cause of campaign finance reform. So I do have a bias on the issue.

Like many important questions, campaign finance reform is a complex topic. And, because politics, by its nature, embodies both the virtues and vices of the human beings who practice it, no system will be perfect. No reform will remedy every deficiency. Still, the current system has become so tainted that significant reform is badly needed.

Some of my friends in the pro-life movement suggest that reform may pose difficulties for the pro-life cause. One such concern is that campaign spending by pro-life groups is necessary to offset a pro-choice bias in the mainstream media. This bias, while real, is not a compelling reason to oppose reform.

For one thing, the media bias is overrated. Few Presidents in the 20th century endured a more hostile media than Franklin Roosevelt and Ronald Reagan. Yet few Presidents enjoyed greater popularity or were more effective.

Neither has the media moved public opinion on the abortion question in a pro-choice direction. Rather, recent polls show a shift toward the pro-life position, fueled by the impact of the debate over partial-birth abortion, a debate most people followed in the media.

Moreover, data on both election donations and voter behavior suggests that the pro-choice forces are more reliant on large affluent donors than the pro-life cause.

When the Wisconsin Catholic Conference was developing its statement on campaign finance reform an expert on fund raising at the federal level advised us that the ZIP code that produces more campaign contributions than any other in the nation is 90210.

Much has been written about Beverly Hills, but no one describes it as a bastion of pro-life sentiment. Similar analyses of campaign donations in Wisconsin show that Dane County and Milwaukee's North Shore suburbs - areas that rarely elect pro-life candidates to the legislature - are among the most fertile sources for political donations.

Finally, a recent study of voting behavior indicates that culture, not economics is becoming more important as a determinant of voter behavior. This research suggested that views on abortion and other cultural issues are a major reason why low-income white voters are trending Republican while more affluent voters are becoming more Democratic.

Thus, there are reasons to suggest that laws that serve to limit the role of big money and affluent contributors in political campaigns will pose more problems for the pro-choice cause than for pro-life activists.

But this discussion begs a larger question. That of whether money is needed to win moral arguments.

In the long run, no amount of money can defeat a cause that holds the moral high ground. The strength of the consistent life ethic is found in principles, not pocket books. Lincoln, after all, did not stir the nation on the issue of slavery by spending more money but by affirming his conviction that "right makes might."

Money may be the mother's milk of politics, but truth is the heart blood of just laws. The pro-life cause need not fear reforms of our campaign laws that limit the power of large donors and treat all participants equally.

(Huebscher is executive director of the Wisconsin Catholic Conference, the civil arm of the state's five diocesan bishops.)

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