NORMAN, Okla. — U.S. Sen. Tom Coburn told students campaign finance needs to be reformed Thursday morning at the University of Oklahoma College of Law.

Legislators need to consider what’s best for the nation and the next generation when making decisions, not who donated money to them, he said.

The senator spoke to Professor Joe Thai’s First Amendment class, which has also studied campaign finance this semester.

“Since we’ve done the law stuff, we wanted to hear the political side of it,” Thai said Thursday before Coburn spoke.

Thai said he invited Coburn to speak to his class because he knew the senator would be open and honest about changes that need to be made.
"So it’s better for the students to have it from his mouth than from mine or a textbook,” Thai said.

The key to campaign finance reform is transparency, Coburn said.

“The only way we can hold ourselves accountable is to keep our stuff out in the open,” he said.

As a step toward this, Coburn sponsored the Federal Funding Transparency and Accountability Act of 2006. The Act establishes a searchable Web site that lists how federal money is used at agencies and organizations.

The act was a step in the right direction, but political finances are not as open to the public, he said.

This leads to the “less than ethical situation in Congress today,” because legislators often finance pet projects in return for campaign finances, Coburn said.

If legislators were required to disclose all contributions to their campaigns, the public knowledge would naturally restrain legislators from acting out of the current quid pro quo mindset, he said. They would refrain from taking questionable donations for fear of being found out, he said.

“If you have transparency, you will have accountability,” Coburn said.

Coburn, a physician, also had some scathing remarks about his fellow legislators.

“Most politicians are more interested in the next election than the next generation,” he said.

And the longer a politician stays in office, the more likely he is to become corrupt and shortsighted, Coburn said. That’s why he said he’s in favor of limiting legislators to two terms in a row.

“The problem is, we all have personal failings, and they get exaggerated when we get put in places of power,” he said.

The political climate in the United States has become polarized in the last 15 to 20 years, he said.

“It’s divided, quite frankly,” he said.

The public knows this and wants more bipartisan candidates.

“We need leadership that’s going to stand up and say, ‘Here’s what’s important to our nation,’” Coburn said, instead of promoting special interests.

When asked by one law student how to get such altruistic candidates, Coburn said there are hundreds of Oklahomans who would do a better job than he as a senator.

“Well, I guess you got to get people who are willing to sacrifice,” he said.

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