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Jewish World Review March 30, 2001 / 6 Nissan, 5761

George Will

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Consumer Reports

The Senate's Comic Opera -- THE overture for the Senate's campaign finance opera -- opera bouffe, actually -- was indignation about President Bush's decision against cutting carbon dioxide emissions. Reformers said the decision was a payoff for the coal industry's campaign contributions. But natural gas interests, rivals of the coal interests, suffered from Bush's decision -- yet they gave Republicans more money ($4.8 million) last year than coal interests gave ($3.37 million).

The "reforming" senators began their reforming by legislating for themselves an even stronger entitlement to buy television time at a discount, and by voting themselves a right to take larger contributions (up to $6,000, rather than just $1,000) when running against a rich, self-financing opponent. The Supreme Court says the only permissible reason for limiting political speech by limiting money is to prevent corruption or the appearance thereof. The Senate did not explain why it is corrupting to take $6,000 when running against an opponent with a net worth of X but not corrupting when running against an opponent with net worth of 10 times X.

The Senate refused to ban, as nine states do, lobbyists from contributing to legislators when the legislature is in session. John McCain, at last noticing the Constitution, said this inhibition on political giving is constitutionally problematic, presumably because it restricts the rights to political expression and to petition for redress of grievances.

Constitutional scrupulousness is a sometime thing for McCain, who once voted to amend the First Amendment to empower government to do what his bill now aims to do -- ration political communications. For example, his bill would restrict broadcast ads by unions and corporations and groups they support in the two months before a general election or 30 days before a primary if the ads mention a candidate.

In a cri de coeur revealing the main motive for many "reform" politicians -- a motive having nothing to do with corruption or the appearance of it -- Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) said: "I'm suffering an independent expenditure missile attack, and I don't have my shield." Campaign finance reform is primarily an attempt by politicians to shield themselves from free speech -- from, that is, the consequences of the shield James Madison wrote to protect the people from politicians: "Congress shall make no law . . . abridging the freedom of speech."

Last Saturday McCain's partner, Wisconsin Sen. Russell Feingold, delivered the Democrats' response to President Bush's weekly radio address. With the reformer's characteristic hyperbole, Feingold attempted to reconnect reform with "corruption." He said: "Members of Congress and the leaders of both political parties routinely request and receive contributions for the parties of $100,000, $500,000, $1 million."

Well. There are 535 members of Congress. In the last two-year (1999-2000) election cycle, there were 1,564 contributions of $60,000 or more from individuals and organizations. So all those legislators supposedly "routinely" receiving such contributions for their parties receive, on average, fewer than two a year. The total value of all 1,564 was $365.2 million, a sum equal to one-fourteenth the amount Procter & Gamble spent on advertising during the same period.

The New York Times accurately and approvingly expresses McCainism: "Congress is unable to deal objectively with any issue, from a patients' bill of rights to taxes to energy policy, if its members are receiving vast open-ended donations from the industries and people affected." Oh. If only people affected by government would stop trying to affect the government -- if they would just shut up and let McCain act "objectively."

If you doubt that reformers advocate reform because they believe that acting "objectively" means coming to conclusions shared by the New York Times, read "Who's Buying Campaign Finance Reform?" written by attorney Cleta Mitchell and published by the American Conservative Union Foundation. It reveals that since 1996, liberal foundations and soft money donors have contributed $73 million to the campaign for campaign finance reform. For example, George Soros, founder of drug legalization efforts and other liberal causes, has contributed $4.7 million, including more than $600,000 to Arizonans for Clean Elections -- more than 71 percent of the funding of ACE.

Soros and seven other wealthy people founded and funded the Campaign for a Progressive Future. One of those people, Steven Kirsch, contributed $500,000 to campaign "reform" groups in 2000 -- and $1.8 million against George W. Bush. Another reformer, Jerome Kohlberg, donated $100,000 to a group that ran ads saying "Let's get the $100,000 checks out of politics."

Let's be clear. These people have and should retain a constitutional right to behave in this way, putting the bouffe in the opera bouffe.

Comment on JWR contributor George Will's column by clicking here.


03/26/01: A second decade of economic trouble?
03/22/01: McCainism, the McCarthyism of today's "progressives"
03/19/01: Skirting what the First Amendment says
03/16/01: The SAT's thankless task
03/12/01: Fending Off the Speech Police
03/08/01: Democrat turnabout?
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03/01/01: Duck! Our racial and ethnic spoils system is spinning out of control
02/26/01: Common Sense and the Constitution
02/22/01: Brooklyn's Artsy Dodgers
02/20/01: Whose surplus is it, anyway?
02/16/01: A truly inclusive holiday
02/12/01: Within the realm of Bush's tax cut
02/08/01: A season spoiled
02/05/01: Keeping faith behind initiatives
02/01/01: Tall order for a few federal dollars
01/29/01: You ain't seen nothin' yet
01/26/01: 'Art' Unburdened by Excellence
01/22/01: The monkey that could mean the end
01/19/01: The real enemy in the drug war
01/15/01: Congress just isn't big enough
01/12/01: Clinton's mark
01/08/01: All that is jazz
01/04/01: Bush's picks reveal Right attitude
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12/21/00: Beware the 'Bipartisanship'
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12/11/00: Truth optional
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11/28/00: Florida's rogue court
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11/17/00: Slow-motion larceny
11/13/00: Gore, Hungry for Power
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11/06/00: The case for Bush
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10/02/00: Senate Canvas
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09/25/00: Blaming the Voters
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09/18/00: Farewell, Mr. Moynihan
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08/24/00: Sauerkraut Ice Cream
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06/21/00: Fumble on Prayer
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06/15/00: Schools Beset by Lawyers And Shrinks
06/12/00: Missile Defense Charade
06/07/00: The Grandparent Dissent
06/05/00: Liberal Condescension
06/01/00: Great Awakenings
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05/25/00: Forget Values, Let's Talk Virtues
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04/06/00: A must-read horror book
04/03/00: 'Improving' the Bill of Rights
03/30/00: Sleaze, The Sequel
03/27/00: How new 'rights' will destroy freedom
03/23/00: Death and the Liveliest Writing
03/20/00: Powell is Dubyah's best bet
03/16/00: Free to Be Politically Intense
03/13/00: Runnin', Gunnin' and Gambling
03/09/00: And Now Back to Republican Business
03/06/00: As the Clock Runs Out on Bradley
03/02/00: Island of Equal Protection
02/28/00: . . . The Right Response
02/24/00: Federal Swelling
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02/07/00: Free to Speak, Free to Give
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01/31/00: America's true unity day
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12/16/99: Star-Crossed Banner
12/13/99: Hubert Humphrey Wannabe
12/09/99: Stupidity in Seattle
12/06/99: Bradley's most important vote
12/03/99: Boys will be boys --- or you can always drug 'em
12/01/99: Confidence in the Gore Camp
11/29/99: Busing's End
11/22/99: When We Enjoyed Politics
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10/08/99: Soft Thinking On Soft Money

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