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The "money chase" continued throughout the 2008 federal elections, as private donors contributed vast sums of money in support of presidential and congressional candidates. This included direct contributions to their campaigns, as well as contributions to party committees, independent expenditures and so-called issue-oriented advocacy that provided indirect support for their campaigns. Most of the donations came from wealthy individuals. But substantial sums also were provided by 527 and 501(c) organizations.
Much of the fundraising for presidential and congressional campaigns was fueled by higher contribution limits for individuals, as well as the increasing use of the Internet to facilitate donations. At the same time, bundling of contributions by large donors still played an important role.
Unlike past election cycles, many democratic candidates enjoyed a substantial financial advantage over their GOP opponents in the 2008 campaigns. After rejecting public financing, Senator Obama broke all fundraising records for presidential candidates and was able to outspend Senator McCain in the general election. Similarly, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee spent three times as much as its Republican counterpart, and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee spent twice as much as its GOP competitor. Spending by 527 and 501(c) groups was split about evenly in support of democratic and GOP candidates.
Despite the financial advantage enjoyed by Democrats in the 2008 elections, this does not mean we should be complacent about the status quo. The constant "money chase" forces candidates to devote countless hours to fundraising, rather than focusing on the issues or dealing with the needs of their constituents. And they inevitably wind up being beholden to wealthy individuals and special interests that provide the bulk of their financial support.
The solution to these problems is to reinvigorate the system of public financing for presidential campaigns and to establish a system of partial public financial for congressional campaigns. In 2009, Senator Durbin and Representative John Larson introduced legislation to provide matching public funds for small donations to House and Senate candidates (S. 752; H.R. 1826). Similar legislation may be introduced this coming year to encourage small donations to presidential candidates. The UAW and other progressive groups support these measures as an important step towards reforming the financing of our presidential and congressional elections and reducing the influence of wealthy individuals and special interests on the electoral process.
Meanwhile, the UAW and other unions must remain vigilant against efforts to pass so-called paycheck deception legislation, either in Congress or in various states. These proposals would silence the voice of working families on political issues that have a direct impact on wages, benefits, working conditions and jobs. We will continue to fight such proposals, and to defend the rights of workers to speak out on political issues.
In the 2008 elections many states continued to experience problems in their voting equipment and procedures. There were long waits at many polling places, absentee ballots did not reach some voters, provisional ballots often were not counted, and malfunctions occurred in electronic voting machines. In addition, deceptive voter-suppression activities were reported in various areas. These activities were targeted at minorities, as well as elderly, student and lower-income voters. As a result of all of these problems, thousands of Americans were denied the opportunity to participate in our electoral process.
During the coming year the UAW will work with our progressive allies in support of voting reforms to ensure the integrity of the voting process and to increase the ability of Americans to participate in the electoral process. We will continue to support reforms relating to the handling of provisional ballots and the security of electronic voting machines. Tough measures also are needed to crack down on activities designed to suppress voter turnout.
In addition, the UAW will continue to work with our coalition partners to urge more states to allow for election day registration and to establish statewide registration data bases. We will also urge states to adopt measures to make it easier for working men and women to vote by absentee ballot and to allow for early voting. All of these measures can help increase the ability of workers to participate in the electoral process.
At the same time, we will continue to oppose voter-identification measures that would require all persons to show government-issued, photo ID in order to exercise their constitutional right to vote. These measures have the effect of disenfranchising many minorities, elderly, disabled, rural and low-income voters.