By Joshua Benton
Blade Staff Writer
CLEVELAND — U.S. Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D., Toledo) yesterday attacked the campaign finance system she says puts government in the hands of a few wealthy donors, and issued a challenge to Ohio politicians to abandon millions of dollars worth of fund-raising.
Her remarks were made at the City Club of Cleveland, which for decades has counted among its members many of the area’s richest and most powerful citizens.
“I don’t think real reform will come from the federal level,” she said. “But in Ohio, we have a chance to do it ourselves.”
“This wasn’t for the tea and crumpets crowd,” Miss Kaptur said after her speech. She repeatedly challenged what she sees as Ohio’s political power base – the state’s wealthy and the voters of metro Cleveland – to push for political change.
“Clevelanders, listen! Clevelanders, listen! Use your considerable influence as the state’s most populous region to force change,” she said.
In a fiery, statistics-filled half-hour, Miss Kaptur lambasted the campaign finance system and the ongoing attempts to reform it. She called the U.S. Senate campaign finance hearings “an illusion” and said they’ve produced no real action.
“Nothing has happened. Only hot air has happened.”
Political campaigns revolve around the cycles of fund-raising, she said, tying politicians to the interests of lobbyists and the wealthy and distancing them from constituents. And, she argued, the problem is just as severe in Ohio as it is in the federal government.
She pointed to Cincinnati, where she said campaign spending for eight city council seats – each of them a $46,000-per-year job – topped $2.3 million in 1995. A single family gave more than $300,000 to candidates during a four-year stretch in the 1990s.
Saying she doesn’t expect any substantial action from Congress, Miss Kaptur challenged all statewide candidates in Ohio to limit their spending levels voluntarily. “Individual candidates can lead the way by promising to abide by reasonable limits,” she said. “Unrealistic? No. It’s called leadership.”
She specifically targeted Cleveland’s native son, Governor Voinovich, who is expected to be the Republican candidate for Democrat John Glenn’s U.S. Senate seat in 1998. Mr. Glenn has announced he will not seek re-election.
“Governor Voinovich already has $3 million banked for his Senate race,” Miss Kaptur said. “Why doesn’t he stop there and challenge statewide candidates to limit spending to no more than $3 million?
“His motto has been doing more with less. So why not try it himself?”
Governor Voinovich raised more than $8.2 million for his 1990 run for governor, she said, $1.9 million of it from only 42 contributors.
Too many members of Congress are too wealthy to relate to their constituents, Miss Kaptur said. About 30 per cent of senators and a similar number of representatives are millionaires.
“The Congress is a human institution, and the laws we write embody the life experience and knowledge of our members,” Miss Kaptur said. “So, when average citizens question whether Congress can identify with their plight, they might well ask themselves: ‘Which members of Congress have walked in my shoes?'”
She suggested electing more people of more modest means to Congress as a way to increase trust in the federal government, and such talk led some in the audience to believe Miss Kaptur – the daughter of a small grocer and a factory worker – might be considering a run for the Senate.
Some Ohio Democrats have asked Miss Kaptur to run, and high-profile appearances like this one in Cleveland would be crucial to such a campaign.
In the prepared text of her speech, Miss Kaptur did not include former Cuyahoga County Commissioner Mary Boyle, a Democrat, in a list of Ohio women elected to high office. Ms. Boyle has announced her candidacy for the Senate seat.
But she added Ms. Boyle to her remarks, calling her a “very able officeholder in Cuyahoga County.”
Afterwards, Miss Kaptur said she will not run for the Senate and will seek re-election to her Ninth District House seat.