WASHINGTON-- The new campaign finance law seeks to limit the influence of corporations, unions and rich people -- and also makes it illegal for kids to donate money.
Supporters of the change say adults were abusing the system by contributing in children's names. Critics say the law will punish youngsters with a strong interest in politics.
''We are constantly told about the need to get more citizens involved in the electoral process,'' said Rep. Patrick Tiberi, R-Ohio. ''With this bill, we are doing just the opposite. We are telling young people, the folks we want to get involved now so they will stay involved in years to come, 'No thanks, maybe when you're older.'''
Frank Clemente, spokesman for the Washington watchdog group Public Citizen, said there are many ways youngsters can contribute to the political process aside from giving cash. They can go door-to-door dropping off campaign literature, make phone calls, stuff envelopes or put up political signs.
''That's a terrible way to teach civics, to have them write a check for some candidate rather than participate in democracy,'' he said.
The main focus of the new law, which goes into effect Nov. 6, is to ban the hundreds of millions of dollars that corporations, unions and individuals give the national parties in unregulated ''soft money.'' However, it also makes it illegal for anyone 17 or under to make a contribution.
A half-dozen teens interviewed Friday in Washington said they oppose the ban, though they acknowledged it probably won't affect them.
''I don't have much money to give, so it's not like it's a big burden,'' said Chris Morrissey, 17, a high school junior.
At least 14 states have campaign contribution regulations on youthful giving, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
Bob Biersack, a spokesman for the Federal Election Commission, said the old federal system made it easy for parents to skirt the law.
''There's been an ongoing problem throughout the years of relatively small children making sizable contributions to candidates,'' he said.
Tiberi said the new law punishes honest children who want to support a candidate. He said it's silly to allow children to hold jobs and pay taxes, but forbid them from donating to campaigns.
''Banning honest-to-goodness 17-year-olds from giving a few bucks to candidates they support is overkill at its worst,'' Tiberi said.
The FEC has no hard figures on how much money was contributed by children or in children's names in the 2000 election cycle because donors aren't required to disclose their ages.
According to the Center for Responsive Politics, a Washington group that tracks campaign contributions, donors who listed ''student'' as their occupation gave about $3.2 million in the last campaign cycle and $428,000 so far for the upcoming elections. However, these figures include people of any age, from elementary school to graduate school.
Doug Bailey, a former Republican media consultant and founder of Youth-e-Vote, a national nonprofit organization that sponsors mock elections for students, said youngsters should have the choice to give time or money or both to a campaign.
''I have no doubt that the law has been abused in the past. I also think it's a mistake to assume that young people don't have a mind of their own and don't have the capacity to contribute,'' he said.
On the Net:
Rep. Patrick Tiberi: http://www.house.gov/tiberi/
Federal Election Commission: http://www.fec.org
Public Citizen: http://www.citizen.org
State Regs at a glance
At least 14 states have campaign contribution regulations for youths:
Arizona, Arkansas, Hawaii, Kansas, Michigan, Oklahoma, South Carolina and Texas count contributions from minors toward their parent's contribution limits.
Connecticut prohibits anyone under the age of 16 from giving more than $30.
Massachusetts limits contributions from children under 18 to $25 a year.
Florida limits minors to $100 for each candidate or political committee.
Kentucky does not allow contributions from minors to exceed $1,000.
Alaska and West Virginia prohibit minors from contributing to campaigns money that was given to them by their parents for that purpose.
Source: National Conference of State Legislatures.
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