Editorial by John Ziegler

Jim Greenwood Shows that he is Just Like All the Rest

2/17/2002 6:12:38 PM

Greenwood Shows He is Just Like the Rest

Congressman Jim Greenwood has been getting a lot of positive national publicity lately. As chairman of one of the many committees investigating the Enron debacle, in the past few weeks he has been on the network news far more often than even the elusive Osama bin Laden.

But Greenwood's profile isn't the only aspect of the congressman that is going national. So is his base of campaign contributions. A recent financial disclosure report revealed that an incredible 80% of the money Greenwood raised in the last cycle came from sources outside of the 8th congressional district. In past years approximately 80% of his donations came from inside the area he represents. Included among those donors from outside Bucks County are numerous pharmaceutical and bioengineering executives who run the very companies he oversees as chairman of the Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigation.

What makes all of this especially interesting is that Greenwood fashions himself as a champion of eliminating the corrosive effects of money in our political system. He proudly boasts that he does not take PAC money and is co-sponsor of the Shays-Meehan campaign finance reform bill, claiming, "It would be hard to find a member of Congress who has done more to limit the influence of money in politics."

If that is true then the problem of money in politics is far worse than even a cynic like myself has previously suspected.

Yes, Greenwood does not take PAC money, but big deal. Instead of taking money from a Political Action Committee he takes it directly from the people who run those committees. What is the difference? When he took his $1,000 from Enron's CEO Ken Lay (who he insisted he never even met until his campaign manager at the time contradicted him) instead of their PAC, the only real change was that the contribution was limited to $2,000 (for a couple) instead of $5,000.

Plus, Greenwood operates his OWN PAC, which he uses to support other candidates (with whom he surely swaps votes in Congress). For Greenwood to claim "virginity" on this issue is sort of like the owner of a cake shop who regularly licks the ingredients bowl claiming that he is strictly following his diet's ban on desserts.

It is certainly no coincidence that, as Greenwood's influence has increased (he is currently rated as the 28th most powerful congressman by yourcongress.com), so has his ability to attract donors from outside our area. Most media reports imply (if not flat out declare) that having such a representative in Washington is good for the district because he can presumably "get things done." However, this premise appears to be inherently flawed.

This entire theory of a more powerful congressman being better for the folks back home is based on the socialistic notion that a representative's primary role is to acquire as much government spending (needed or not) as possible. However, some of us still believe that what is best for the nation as a whole (especially post- 9/11), is what actually matters.

But even the socialists among us may still find fault with this thinking. After all, if the vast majority of Greenwood's money is coming from people outside the district, will he not be beholden to interests that, at best, have nothing to do with the concerns of our area?

The dirty little secret of our campaign finance mess is that it is absolutely impossible to get a meaningful handle on political contributions without restricting freedom of speech rights (which, by the way, the Greenwood-backed Shays-Meehan bill would do). Instead, term limits, while hardly perfect, would seem to be a much better answer.

What if Senators were elected to only one, eight-year term? How about if members of the House were allowed two, four-year terms? Not only would such a system mean that we would eventually only have one election every four years, but also that political contributors would have virtually no leverage over the candidates to whom they gave, no matter how large the amount.

Ironically, when Jim Greenwood first ran for Congress he promised self-enforced term limits. He has now broken that pledge, saying that "the issue has changed its face over time." Presumably he was trying to claim (lamely) that incumbency is no longer as daunting an advantage as it was then, but he easily could have been referring to his own sense of right and wrong.

THIS COLUMN APPPEARED IN BOTH THE DAILY NEWS AND COURIER TIMES

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