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Jewish World Review April 5, 2001 / 12 Nissan, 5761

Michael Kelly

Michael Kelly
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Consumer Reports

The good news about McCain-Feingold is ... -- THE good news about the McCain-Feingold campaign-finance-reform bill, which passed the Senate this week by a vote of 59-41, is that it is at its heart such an insane measure that it will never be the law of the land.

The courts will gut McCain-Feingold from stem to stern, and hurrah for that.

The emotional appeal of McCain-Feingold is its ban of "soft money," the unregulated millions which pour into federal campaigns in an increasingly blatant, and entirely successful, effort to weasel around federal election laws governing direct contributions to candidates. This appeal is understandable.

It was clear that the Clinton-Gore White House - in which access to the president and special consideration on issues of government policy were openly sold for soft money - had to represent a bottom; there had to be some sort of response to such an open display of corruption. McCain-Fein- gold is the response, and the temptation is to gaze upon it with a lover's eyes.

This, though, is not how the Supreme Court will regard the reeking mess that the Senate cleared off its desk this week. The court will - any court would - view McCain-Feingold for what it is: an insupportable, blatantly unconstitutional assault on the rights to speak and associate freely.

The assault comes in the areas of the bill that have received less attention than the media-beloved soft-money ban.

Media descriptions of the bill tend to describe its speech-restricting provisions in a shorthand: Under an amendment offered by Sen. Paul Wellstone, the bill would prohibit nonprofit groups, for-profit corporations, labor unions and trade associations from sponsoring broadcast advertisements that name and "promote candidates" within 30 days of a primary election or 60 days of a general election.

In fact, the bill is much more sweeping in its restrictions. If the courts find the above measure to be unconstitutional (which they will), McCain-Feingold would move to protect its speech restrictions under a contingency amendment offered by Sen. Arlen Specter. The Specter amendment is actually much worse than the Wellstone amendment.

It forbids the covered groups from sponsoring - at any time - any broadcast advertisement that "promotes," "supports," "attacks" or "opposes" any "candidate," and that is "suggestive of no plausible meaning other than an exhortation to vote for or against a specific candidate."

This appears to prohibit, say, a labor union, from paying for an ad that pointed out that Congressman X had voted against the increase in the minimum wage. Indeed, it appears to prohibit saying almost anything.

There is more in McCain-Feingold that the courts will find pernicious. In the pungent analysis of James Bopp Jr., general counsel for the James Madison Center for Free Speech, "This bill shakes a fist at the First Amendment; if passed it is destined for a court-ordered funeral." Most of the senators who voted for it probably know this is true; that's one reason so many voted for it.

What's troubling is not that this attack on speech will stand; it is that it has been so widely and unthinkingly applauded as a good thing.

This is bizarre. Do good-government liberals really want a country where labor unions and environmental groups and the NAACP are stifled?

Do they really want a country where the laws protect the politicians from those who would tell embarrassing truths about them?

Michael Kelly is the editor of National Journal. Send your comments to him by clicking here.


03/29/01: The conflict within
03/22/01: Not guilty by reason of notoriety
03/15/01: A fine foreign policy mess
03/08/01: Dubya's savvy: OOPS! I was wrong
03/01/01: Engagement's unseeing eye
02/22/01: The Pardoner's false brief
02/08/01: Oops, they almost converted
02/01/01: Exit the abusers
01/25/01: The monster and the minority
01/11/01: Master money-grubber
01/11/01: Re Bipartisanship: From: The Vast Left-Wing Conspiracy To: The Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy
01/04/01: Faux Commotion
12/21/00: The next Martha Stewart
12/14/00: Democracy rescued
12/06/00: Gore's next task: Face reality
11/15/00: The Great Defender
11/02/00: The Democrats' delusion
10/26/00: Phony Truce
10/19/00: The Talking Cure
10/12/00: Doves' Day of Reckoning
10/05/00: Conan the veep
09/28/00: Dumb vs. Dishonest
09/21/00: Flapping furiously
09/14/00: Down AlGore's Memory Hole
08/24/00: AlGore's Flex-O-Joe
08/17/00: The Joyful Clinton Nation
08/09/00: A Calculated Risk
08/03/00: New Hope for Nice Guys
07/27/00: But What About Dad?
07/20/00: U.S. Handiwork In Sierra Leone
07/13/00: President With a Porpoise
07/06/00: The Importance of Being Earnest
06/29/00: A Press Obsession With the Death Penalty
06/21/00: Gore and the Goodies
06/15/00: Network Snooze
06/01/00: Sunshine on My Shoulders
05/24/00: Last Chance for a Hardened Prevaricator
05/17/00: Cuomo's Thought Police
05/10/00: Hammering DeLay
05/04/00: Some Closing Thoughts
04/28/00: Endangering Elian
04/19/00: Imitation Activism
04/12/00: Why they hate Bubba
04/05/00: Census and nonesense
03/29/00: The Stiffs and Their Statuettes
03/15/00: Anarchy in Kosovo
03/08/00: Reform joke
03/01/00:The Pinhead Factor
03/01/00: The Christian Right: Past Its Prime . . .
02/24/00: McCain's Majority
02/16/00: Sharpton's Supplicants
02/09/00: The GOP Pilgrims' Sad Tale
02/02/00: Fodder For the GOP
01/26/00: Million-Dollar Mediocrity
01/19/00: Campaign Reform: Let's Pretend
01/12/00: Never Again? Oh, Never Mind
01/05/00: Turn Off, Tune Out, Drop In
12/22/99: Gore's TV Gambit
12/15/99: Campaigns Do Clarify
12/08/99: Kosovo's Killers
12/01/99: Not Ready for Prime Time?
11/24/99: The Company He Keeps
11/17/99: Republican Illusion
11/10/99: The Know-Nothing Media
11/03/99: Necessary Partisanship
10/27/99: Buchanan's Gift to George W. Bush
10/21/99: Who are the real friends of the poor?
10/14/99: Gore's 'courage'!?
10/08/99: Republican Stunts
09/23/99: Buchanan's folly
09/16/99: Beatty and Buchanan: That's Entertainment!
09/09/99: Puerto Rico Surprise (Cont'd)
09/02/99: Puerto Rico Surprise
08/12/99:The Age of No Class
08/05/99: Assessing Welfare Reform
07/29/99: On the Wrong Side
07/21/99: Mass Sentimentality
07/15/99: Blame Hillary
07/08/99: Guide to the Arts: For Your Summer Reading . . .
06/30/99: A Perfectly Clintonian Doctrine
06/25/99:Smorgasbord by the Sea
06/16/99: A National Calamity
06/09/99: Stumbling Forward
06/02/99: Commencement '90s-Style
05/26/99: Will we ever learn? Clintochio is a lying ...
05/19/99: Comforting Milosevic
05/13/99: Short-Order Strategists
05/06/99: Four Revolting Spectacles

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