Jewish World Review April 2, 2001 / 9 Nissan, 5761
There's only one problem: Even if it becomes law it will never withstand a constitutional challenge. That's because it overtly flies in the face of the First Amendment's guarantee of free speech by severely limiting and regulating private individuals and organizations and their support of political parties and candidates.
"Soft-money" is, really, another term for free speech, and to ban one is to dramatically limit the other. If the two aren't connected, as some maintain, then the "reformers" could just as easily call for restricting contributions to churches by saying that money isn't necessary to freedom of religion, or limiting investment in newspapers by arguing that money isn't necessary to freedom of the press.
Even the bill's most ardent backers seem to recognize the problem and that they'll eventually be back at the drawing board. After all, what speech is more protected by the First Amendment than political speech? So surely they'll have another opportunity to get it right. If they really want to.
Let's start with the first part of that equation. Senators John McCain, R-Arizona, Russell Feingold, D-Maine, and their backers complain there is too much money in the political system, and it's used to buy politicians. Never mind that there are already very significant limits on "hard money," which includes the dollars individuals and political action committees can contribute directly to a candidate, and that such limits are the very reason the big bucks have turned up elsewhere, including political parties and issue advocacy organizations. It's like a child's game where one smashes a peg in one place only to have two pop-up somewhere else, and the McCain-Feingold bill will only make it worse.
If "reformers" really wanted to get rid of the "influence peddling" there is a way to make it work: Create a national blind trust for political candidates. Let individuals or organizations contribute whatever they want to this National Campaign Trust, every dime of which goes directly to the candidate specified. Only, safeguards will make sure the candidate never knows where the money comes from. He can't be influenced because he doesn't know who is trying to influence him. This might even dissuade some folks who really are just trying to buy political favors.
Bingo, the goals of McCain-Feingold are easily and simply met: reduce the amount and influence of money in politics. But back to the second part of the equation. Is that really the goal?
Of course not. The entire nonsense of campaign-finance reform is about incumbency protection. Incumbents enter an election cycle with enormous advantages. From handing out political favors to making sure every constituent knows their name thanks to mailings funded by taxpayers, to free media in the form of "news," they are entrenched. The only way for a challenger, then, to take on an incumbent is with money.
That's the real "bingo:" limit the money, limit the ability of challengers to be competitive. Under the McCain-Feingold plan, incumbents go from being entrenched to being granted a lifetime tenure.
Now a National Campaign Trust is not my first choice for reform. Among other reasons, I think if the National Rifle Association or AARP wants to spend lots of money on a particular candidate and make it publicly known where they stand and who they support, they should have the right to do so. I'd actually prefer a system where all caps on political contributions from American citizens, corporations and interest groups are lifted, and every donation above, say, $1,000 is publicly disclosed in easily available forums so voters can decide if they like where a candidate's money comes from.
But according to the lights of the McCain-Feingold folks, such an idea doesn't meet their ostensible goals while the National Campaign Trust does - quite perfectly in fact. Plus it does so without the Constitutional and other landmines the McCain-Feingold bill contains and it preserves and even enlarges the ability of Americans to fully exercise their rights to free speech through their political donations.
But of course, it doesn't do anything, as far as I can see, to keep
incumbents entrenched. And that's why it's obvious any idea along
the lines of a National Campaign Trust won't see the light of day
when the "reformers" behind McCain-Feingold are forced back to
the drawing board because their "reform" fails to pass
03/28/01: Some pro-thoughts about pro-life