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Jonathan Tobin: Defending the Right to a Jewish State

Heather Hale: Compliment your kids without giving them big heads

Megan Shauri: 10 ways you are ruining your own happiness

Carolyn Bigda: 8 Best Dividend Stocks for 2015

Kiplinger's Personal Finance editors: 7 Things You Didn't Know About Paying Off Student Loans

Samantha Olson: The Crucial Mistake 55% Of Parents Are Making At Their Baby's Bedtime

Densie Well, Ph.D., R.D. Open your eyes to yellow vegetables

The Kosher Gourmet by Megan Gordon With its colorful cache of purples and oranges and reds, COLLARD GREEN SLAW is a marvelous mood booster --- not to mention just downright delish
April 18, 2014

Rabbi Yonason Goldson: Clarifying one of the greatest philosophical conundrums in theology

Caroline B. Glick: The disappearance of US will

Megan Wallgren: 10 things I've learned from my teenagers

Lizette Borreli: Green Tea Boosts Brain Power, May Help Treat Dementia

John Ericson: Trying hard to be 'positive' but never succeeding? Blame Your Brain

The Kosher Gourmet by Julie Rothman Almondy, flourless torta del re (Italian king's cake), has royal roots, is simple to make, . . . but devour it because it's simply delicious

April 14, 2014

Rabbi Dr Naftali Brawer: Passover frees us from the tyranny of time

Greg Crosby: Passing Over Religion

Eric Schulzke: First degree: How America really recovered from a murder epidemic

Georgia Lee: When love is not enough: Teaching your kids about the realities of adult relationships

Cameron Huddleston: Freebies for Your Lawn and Garden

Gordon Pape: How you can tell if your financial adviser is setting you up for potential ruin

Dana Dovey: Up to 500,000 people die each year from hepatitis C-related liver disease. New Treatment Has Over 90% Success Rate

Justin Caba: Eating Watermelon Can Help Control High Blood Pressure

The Kosher Gourmet by Joshua E. London and Lou Marmon Don't dare pass over these Pesach picks for Manischewitz!

April 11, 2014

Rabbi Hillel Goldberg: Silence is much more than golden

Caroline B. Glick: Forgetting freedom at Passover

Susan Swann: How to value a child for who he is, not just what he does

Cameron Huddleston: 7 Financial Tasks You Should Tackle Right Now

Sandra Block and Lisa Gerstner: How to Profit From Your Passion

Susan Scutti: A Simple Blood Test Might Soon Diagnose Cancer

Chris Weller: Have A Slow Metabolism? Let Science Speed It Up For You

The Kosher Gourmet by Diane Rossen Worthington Whitefish Terrine: A French take on gefilte fish

April 9, 2014

Jonathan Tobin: Why Did Kerry Lie About Israeli Blame?

Samuel G. Freedman: A resolution 70 years later for a father's unsettling legacy of ashes from Dachau

Jessica Ivins: A resolution 70 years later for a father's unsettling legacy of ashes from Dachau

Kim Giles: Asking for help is not weakness

Kathy Kristof and Barbara Hoch Marcus: 7 Great Growth Israeli Stocks

Matthew Mientka: How Beans, Peas, And Chickpeas Cleanse Bad Cholesterol and Lowers Risk of Heart Disease

Sabrina Bachai: 5 At-Home Treatments For Headaches

The Kosher Gourmet by Daniel Neman Have yourself a matzo ball: The secrets bubby never told you and recipes she could have never imagined

April 8, 2014

Lori Nawyn: At Your Wit's End and Back: Finding Peace

Susan B. Garland and Rachel L. Sheedy: Strategies Married Couples Can Use to Boost Benefits

David Muhlbaum: Smart Tax Deductions Non-Itemizers Can Claim

Jill Weisenberger, M.S., R.D.N., C.D.E : Before You Lose Your Mental Edge

Dana Dovey: Coffee Drinkers Rejoice! Your Cup Of Joe Can Prevent Death From Liver Disease

Chris Weller: Electric 'Thinking Cap' Puts Your Brain Power Into High Gear

The Kosher Gourmet by Marlene Parrish A gift of hazelnuts keeps giving --- for a variety of nutty recipes: Entree, side, soup, dessert

April 4, 2014

Rabbi David Gutterman: The Word for Nothing Means Everything

Charles Krauthammer: Kerry's folly, Chapter 3

Amy Peterson: A life of love: How to build lasting relationships with your children

John Ericson: Older Women: Save Your Heart, Prevent Stroke Don't Drink Diet

John Ericson: Why 50 million Americans will still have spring allergies after taking meds

Cameron Huddleston: Best and Worst Buys of April 2014

Stacy Rapacon: Great Mutual Funds for Young Investors

Sarah Boesveld: Teacher keeps promise to mail thousands of former students letters written by their past selves

The Kosher Gourmet by Sharon Thompson Anyone can make a salad, you say. But can they make a great salad? (SECRETS, TESTED TECHNIQUES + 4 RECIPES, INCLUDING DRESSINGS)

April 2, 2014

Paul Greenberg: Death and joy in the spring

Dan Barry: Should South Carolina Jews be forced to maintain this chimney built by Germans serving the Nazis?

Mayra Bitsko: Save me! An alien took over my child's personality

Frank Clayton: Get happy: 20 scientifically proven happiness activities

Susan Scutti: It's Genetic! Obesity and the 'Carb Breakdown' Gene

Lecia Bushak: Why Hand Sanitizer May Actually Harm Your Health

Stacy Rapacon: Great Funds You Can Own for $500 or Less

Cameron Huddleston: 7 Ways to Save on Home Decor

The Kosher Gourmet by Steve Petusevsky Exploring ingredients as edible-stuffed containers (TWO RECIPES + TIPS & TECHINQUES)

Jewish World Review May 10, 2005 / 1 Iyar, 5765

Here's a New Campaign Finance Reform Plan: Just Stop

By Jonathan Rauch


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http://www.JewishWorldReview.com | Most Americans outside Washington, lucky souls, have no idea what a "527" group is. The country paid no attention last week when the Senate Rules Committee voted out a bill that would subject 527 groups to some of the same soft-money restrictions that apply to party committees. The change was portrayed by many of its advocates as little more than a technical adjustment to the existing campaign finance rules: "statutory coordination," as one expert said in Senate testimony. Asleep yet?

Wake up. This is no mere tweak. The 527 question brings campaign finance law face to face with a choice it hoped never to have to make. Congress and the country are on the brink of deciding between unlimited contributions in politics or unlimited regulation of politics.

The McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform law (officially, the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act) was signed into law in March 2002. The Supreme Court upheld and unleashed it in December 2003, only 18 months ago. Only one election cycle has passed since then. Yet Congress is already working on new restrictions. This might reflect, as proponents of the new restrictions argue, that conditions change rapidly in the political world. Or it might suggest, as opponents retort, that the law itself is radically unstable. Unfortunately, both sides are right.

A 527 group is a private, tax-exempt political organization set up under Section 527 of the U.S. tax code. Such groups have been around for years but never took center stage until 2004, when they became major players. As soon as McCain-Feingold shut the door on unlimited contributions (so-called "soft money") to political parties, many of the big-dollar donations began flowing to 527 groups instead. Some of the groups were established by partisan operatives and acted as virtual proxies for the parties (mainly the Democrats). Others — notably Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, which attacked Sen. John Kerry's Vietnam War record — made lots of people hopping mad.

According to the Campaign Finance Institute [PDF], contributions to 527 groups more than doubled between 2002 and 2004, to $405 million. Most of the money came from individuals, often in eye-popping sums; 70 percent of the total came from just 52 people who gave between $1 million and $24 million. Democratic zillionaires Peter B. Lewis and George Soros gave $16 million and $12 million respectively. This was big money if the phrase means anything at all.

Fred Wertheimer, the president of Democracy 21 (an advocacy group that says it works "to eliminate the undue influence of big money in American politics"), argues that 2004 was just the beginning. In 2006, he says, 527 groups will begin pouring money into contested House and Senate races. "Given the opportunity, this will grow and grow in future elections, and it will create enormous inequities." He is probably right. Absent further change, 527 groups will become the outlet of choice for unlimited political contributions.

On the other hand, banning soft-money donations to 527 groups would confirm the campaign finance law's transformation into an engine of unlimited political regulation. Imagine a runaway lawnmower munching every flower bed and hillock in sight, and you have an idea of what the law is at risk of becoming.

Spending money to buy ads or turn out voters is a form of political expression. At least until recently, standard legal doctrine held that such political expression could be restricted only to prevent "corruption or the appearance of corruption," as the Supreme Court ruled in 1976. But what is corruption? It's easy to see why giving $1 million directly to a politician or party might smell of bribery or extortion, but McCain-Feingold put a stop to that. Harder to see is why giving $1 million to an independent group, such as the Sierra Club or the National Rifle Association, would corrupt anybody. After all, private groups are in no position to offer legislative favors or shake down constituents.

Ordinarily, one might suppose it to be a good thing when rich people finance political mobilization and discussion. Where, exactly, is the harm in George Soros's giving $12 million to an independent political outfit that seeks to defeat President Bush? In a recent fact sheet, Democracy 21 and the Campaign Legal Center reply this way:

"Large donations to 527 groups spending money to influence federal elections can buy influence with federal candidates, even if the 527 groups are operating independently. Since such 527 groups are spending money to elect federal candidates, and since the source and amounts of these unlimited contributions are readily available to the candidates, the contributions can buy influence with the federal candidates benefiting from the expenditures by the 527 groups."

In other words, the problem is not corruption, at least not as traditionally understood; the problem is influence. In yet other words, influence is corruption. And in yet other words, because politics is all about influence, politics is corruption — at least until all contributions to political causes are so small that politicians won't feel particularly grateful to anybody.

It is true that some of the biggest 527 groups in 2004 were partisan spin-offs; that was a predictable consequence of placing new limits on parties. But most 527 groups are genuinely independent. The Sierra Club's 527 group, for example, raised and spent $6.2 million on voter-education and get-out-the-vote efforts in 2004. If contributions were limited, "our guess is our program would probably be reduced by 90 percent," says Aimee Tavares, the Sierra Club's political operations director.

The Sierra Club is one of many nonprofit advocacy groups opposing new limits on 527 groups. Some, like the Sierra Club, operate their own 527s; many do not understand how restricting political speech and voter mobilization helps democracy or cleanses politics; and many fear that once 527 groups are regulated, nonpartisan advocacy groups — the so-called 501(c)(4) groups that form the backbone of citizen advocacy — will be the next to face new restrictions.

Public Citizen has already called for a crackdown on 501 groups, saying in a press release last September, "These new stealth PACs should not be allowed to operate with such impunity." Other campaign finance reformers disagree — for now. "You simply will not see the same kinds of things happen" with 501 groups as with 527 groups, Wertheimer says. But when asked whether he would rule out action against 501(c)(4) groups, Wertheimer said, "I would, based on now. If, down the road, people concluded there were massive abuses going on, I assume it would be looked at."

Many reformers say they are merely trying to prevent circumvention of the existing campaign finance law, but that is not really reassuring. "The problem," says Robert F. Bauer, a Democratic campaign finance lawyer with the firm of Perkins Coie, "is that once you have become obsessed with so-called circumvention, with the purity of the reform effort and anything that appears to threaten it, inevitably you have an endless law enforcement patrol that fans out over the countryside looking for fugitives from justice."

If soft money is blocked from 527 groups, much of it may flow to 501 groups. Once 501s' funding is restricted, then individuals' political activities may be regulated. (If George Soros buys too much influence by giving $12 million to a political organization, why let him spend the money himself?) Then the media. (Broadcasts and editorials surely influence elections.) Untethered to any reasonably circumscribed definition of corruption, the law is not just on a slippery slope; the law is a slippery slope.

Here is another plan: Stop. Just stop.

Stop and live with McCain-Feingold for a little while. In law, stability is an important value in and of itself.

Stop and ponder true campaign finance reform, which one more layer of legalistic regulation decidedly is not. Interesting proposals include partial or total deregulation; public financing of campaigns through government subsidies or personal vouchers; creating a system for anonymous donations; and hybrids of the above.

Above all, stop and insist that those who want tighter restrictions on 527s tell us: Where do they propose to stop? "I think we have a right to know at what point people can participate in politics without the FEC coming after them," says Bradley A. Smith, a member of the Federal Election Commission. Question: Can advocates of new restrictions name even one kind of person, organization, or political activity that they believe should be unconditionally off-limits to campaign finance regulators? If they are not required to answer that question now, chances are they never will be.

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JWR contributor Jonathan Rauch is a senior writer and columnist for National Journal. Comment by clicking here.

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