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Jewish World Review March 28, 2001 / 4 Nissan, 5761

Walter Williams

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Consumer Reports

Radical reform needed -- THE McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform bill calls for an aspirin prescription when radical surgery is what's needed.

Among other things, the bill seeks to ban unrestricted "soft money" contributions to political parties and restrict advertising by advocacy groups during federal elections. Soft money contributions to political parties emerged as a means around 26-year-old legal limits on direct contributions to political candidates. During the Republican primaries, Sen. McCain campaigned on this issue, saying that the billions of dollars going into the campaign coffers of political parties created undue influence and special favors.

While it's true that McCain-Feingold poses a significant threat to our First Amendment guarantees, our rights to express ourselves in the political process, there's another issue totally lost in the debate. Let's look at it.

Which issue should we be more concerned about? Should we be concerned by the fact that people are willing to pour money into political campaign coffers with an eye toward gaining access, influence and special favors? Or should we be more concerned that our elected officials are in the business of granting special favors in exchange for campaign contributions? The McCain-Feingold bill suggests that we should be concerned with the former while ignoring the latter. The only solution to political corruption must involve measures to reduce or eliminate Congress' ability to create a privilege for one American that's denied to another American.

The Market Promotion Program gives private companies taxpayer dollars to use in overseas advertisements. For example, in 1993 Sunkist received $6.6 million, Ernest & Julio Gallo received $4.9 million, Dole Co. received $1.6 million, M&M Mars received $1 million, Tyson Foods received $800,000 and Campbell Soup received more than $500,000. I'd bet the rent money that these companies made political contributions, and their Washington lobby groups coattailed congressmen and won the special favor.

What moral, legal or constitutional principle can justify Congress giving one person or business a privilege or favor denied other Americans? I can find none. The solution to this kind of political corruption is not that of restricting the First Amendment rights of representatives of Ernest & Julio Gallo, Tyson Foods and Campbell Soup to make campaign contributions to whomever they wish and in the amounts they wish. The solution is to deny our elected representatives the opportunity to grant special favors.

So here's my proposal as applied to Congress' Market Promotion Program. McCain should author a bill that says something like this: Congress shall not make overseas advertising subsidies to any American company or person unless it makes overseas advertising subsidies to all American companies and persons. Since I earn part of my living by giving lectures, such a law would mean that if Congress gave Gallo, Dole or Campbell Soup overseas advertising subsidies, it should also give me money to advertise my lectures overseas.

If you wanted to sell something or get a job overseas, you'd be eligible under Congress' program. Congress also pays people not to grow corn or raise pigs. Most Americans are neither growing corn nor raising pigs, and they'd be eligible under a law mandating that Congress treat each American equally.

Niether McCain nor any other congressman, save a precious few principled ones such as Ron Paul, R-Texas, and John Shadegg, R-Ariz., would ever support such a measure and for at least two good reasons.

First, congressmen, and politicians in general, get elected on the promise that they will create a favor for one American denied another American. The second reason is worse: We've become a nation of thieves. Nineteenth century philosopher-economist Frederic Bastiat was right on the money with his observation, "The State is the great fiction by which everyone seeks to live at the expense of everyone else."

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