March 27, 2007

An Anniversary To Remember (Updated)

Traditionally, fifth anniversary gifts come in wood, although more modern givers select silver. That seems appropriate as the nation celebrates the fifth anniversary of the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act, otherwise known as McCain-Feingold (Senate version) or Shays-Meehan (House version). Five years ago, wooden-headed politicians sold out the First Amendment for thirty pieces of silver in order to enact the first restrictions on political speech since the Sedition Act of the early 20th century.

Mark Tapscott celebrates the anniversary in his own way:

Five years ago today President Bush signed into law the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002, the main sponsors of which were Sen. John McCain, R-AZ, and Sen. Russ Feingold, D-WI. Bush signed the bill despite having publicly expressed doubt that it was constitutional.

The law banned certain forms of political speech about incumbent congressmen for 30 days prior to a primary election and 60 days prior to a general election. Not since President Lincoln suspended habeus corpus and jailed prominent Copperhead newspaper editors during the Civil War has such a frontal assault been mounted against the First Amendment's guarantee of every American's right to express political opinion without official restraint. ...

And five years later, none of the promises of the McCain-Feingold advocates has been fulfilled. The "corrupting influence of money in politics" is as strong as ever and there is no evidence that the law has had one iota of influence on the degree of citizen participation in politics.

If anything, earmarks financed with tax dollars - the real corrupting influence of money in politics - is at an all-time high. Several congressmen have been convicted of crimes related to earmarks and the Republicans lost their congressional majority last November largely because they couldn't resist this genuine form of the corrupting influence of money in politics.

Ryan Sager also marks the event for the New York Sun in a column titled "Five Years of Failure":

Putting aside the ludicrous notion that 535 incumbent politicians sat down and tried to write a piece of legislation that would make it harder to get reelected, five years later there's no evidence electoral competition has increased. Sure, control of Congress turned over. But anyone who attributes the 2006 election to McCain-Feingold, as opposed to Bush-Cheney-Hastert-Frist, is delusional.

Some McCain-Feingold supporters promised that the bill would reduce the amount of money being raised and spent in elections. "This bill forces all of us," Senator Cantwell of Washington said during the debate, "to play by the same rules and raise and spend money in lower amounts." As the Sun's Josh Gerstein reports today, that certainly hasn't been the result. Candidates for both parties' nominations will surely be shattering first-quarter fundraising records next month.

Then there was the claim that McCain-Feingold could restore trust in government. On this score, Mr. Thompson declared that "we are making headway to do something that will reduce the cynicism in this country and that will help this body, that will help us individually." While, plenty of congressmen have helped themselves individually over the past five years (see: indictments and convictions and plea agreements, above), there is still enough cynicism around for Senator Obama of Illinois to make defeating it the main rationale for his presidential campaign.

Let's make this plain: even if the BCRA had managed to lower the amount of money spent in campaigns and reduce the cynicism that politicians from both parties created in spades, it still would be wrong. Our founders knew full well what happens when government becomes the arbiter of politically acceptable speech; it tends to allow only that speech which perpetuates its power.

For this, one need look no further than the BCRA itself. What did it restrict? It forbade the airing of campaign ads from special-interest groups that criticized incumbent members of Congress within a certain number of days before an election, supposedly to discourage unfair attacks by challengers. This was necessitated by the underperformance of incumbents in elections, where they typically had anemic re-election rates of around 96%.

Let's emphasize this once again -- the BCRA made it illegal to air criticisms of incumbent politicians. In America. Even if one can forgive the Byzantine and artificial categorization of cash that the BCRA extended, we simply cannot forgive this, even had it proven effective at cleaning up politics. And it hasn't.

So let's raise a toast to the fifth anniversary of our elected leaders selling out our American birthright. Five years from now, let's hope we're celebrating its repeal.

UPDATE: John McCain responds to critics in this statement, videotaped and published by the bloggers riding the Straight Talk Express:

This is ludicrous. McCain is correct that we have more avenues for free speech, but that has nothing to do with the BCRA. "Twenty years ago," McCain lectures, "Americans only had three sources for news -- ABC, CBS, and NBC." Aside from his faulty chronology (by 1987, we had CNN and C-SPAN), it's a complete non-sequitur. No one argues that we have a lot more options for information now, but those came well before the BCRA, and the BCRA has been used to interfere with at least some of them, including the blogosphere for a short time.

The BCRA has done nothing to restrain so-called checkbook politics, corruption still abounds, and people are less free to enter the debate than they were before the passage of the BCRA. The only thing the BCRA has done is to protect incumbents and to employ legions of lawyers and accountants. That's the legacy McCain avoids in this little bit of misdirection.

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Comments (18)

Posted by seejanemom [TypeKey Profile Page] | March 27, 2007 7:59 AM

The ABSURDITY of McCain's name in the same sentence with the word REPUBLICAN makes me want to VOMIT.

Somebody hold my hair, wouldja?

Our rights are evaporating at the hands of our own ELECTED Congress but the American people are too busy watching AMERICAN IDOL with such scrutiny to make sure THAT vote goes "their way". That makes me sick too.

We will certainly deserve what we have coming.

Posted by rbj [TypeKey Profile Page] | March 27, 2007 8:10 AM

And what's more galling is that 5 muddleheaded Supreme Court Justices could not read the first phrase of the First Amendment:
"Congress shall make no laws abridging the freedom of speech"

Heck, I'm typing it from memory.

Posted by SwabJockey05 [TypeKey Profile Page] | March 27, 2007 8:13 AM

How many Republicans signed up for this one...including Pres Bush?

Republicans: The Dhimmicrat enablers.

Posted by TomB [TypeKey Profile Page] | March 27, 2007 8:20 AM

Resoning of each despot is to make things "less cynical and more responsible". Talking of which I just saw "Shooter" the other day.
But I also have to admit, that the political mud on TV commercials is not pretty.

Posted by Woody [TypeKey Profile Page] | March 27, 2007 8:27 AM

I don't think the McCain-Feingold Atrocity - sorry, it's the abridgement - McCain-Feingold Act would pass muster in the Court now with Roberts and Alito on the bench now. Screw Congress repealing it and holding your breath for no veto of the repeal, mount another assault in the Court.

Woody

"I pledge allegiance to the rights that made and keep me free. I will preserve and defend those rights for all who live in this Union, founded on the belief and principles that those rights are inalienable and essential to the pursuit and preservation of life, liberty, and happiness."

Posted by Woody [TypeKey Profile Page] | March 27, 2007 8:39 AM

I don't think the McCain-Feingold Atrocity .... Sorry, it's the abridgement ... McCain-Feingold Act would pass muster in the Court now with Roberts and Alito on the bench now. Screw Congress repealing it and holding your breath for no veto of the repeal, mount another assault in the Court.

Woody

"I pledge allegiance to the rights that made and keep me free. I will preserve and defend those rights for all who live in this Union, founded on the belief and principles that those rights are inalienable and essential to the pursuit and preservation of life, liberty, and happiness."

Posted by iotrader20 [TypeKey Profile Page] | March 27, 2007 9:20 AM

Captain Ed,

I certainly agree with your post here, but I think there is one small error...

Unless there is another Sedition Act that I am not aware of, that law was enacted in 1798 - which would make its timing in the late 18th century rather than the early 20th century as you state in your post.

Posted by babstinger [TypeKey Profile Page] | March 27, 2007 9:25 AM

So how do we move forward with a lawsuit to challenge this monstrosity? What are the steps to get started? How about putting up a billboard criticizing an incumbent 25 days before an election, have them tell me to take it down, and refusing?

Posted by AnonymousDrivel [TypeKey Profile Page] | March 27, 2007 9:44 AM

RE: babstinger (March 27, 2007 09:25 AM)
...How about putting up a billboard criticizing an incumbent 25 days before an election, have them tell me to take it down, and refusing?

Politically courageous. And quite possibly financially ruinous. Remember, this is an incumbency protection act and it will require quite a bit of effort to shame enough of them to not enforce their edict. Your civil disobedience will require some deep pockets and depend on the activism and contributions of normal Americans whose eyes gloss over if you say McCain-Feingold. If you can afford the sacrifice while public education percolates and support is ginned up enough to force the politicians' hands, then such an act would be a patriotic service. If you can't then the incumbents will make your life a litigation nightmare.

Posted by orman [TypeKey Profile Page] | March 27, 2007 10:11 AM

Actually, there were laws suppressing free speech in the early part of the 20th century. The original act was called the Espionage Act of 1917 but it was followed by the Sedition Act of 1918. They were used to imprison people and also to suppress distribution of various publications. See Wikipedia.

The thing I find most disturbing about McCain is that I believe - can't find a URL - that pursuing his ideas of "clean government" is more important than the Bill of Rights. Not a man to trust as president - he's already done too much damage as a Senator. There is enough fanaticism on public display these days without giving him the "bully pulpit".

Posted by Woody [TypeKey Profile Page] | March 27, 2007 10:21 AM

Babstinger,

Someone or group needs to either violate McCain-Feingold, or be denied by a major news outlet to run an ad due to McCain-Feingold, and then challenge the stomping on or denial of the freedom of speech.

Woody

Posted by orman [TypeKey Profile Page] | March 27, 2007 10:46 AM

Sorry. I meant to say that "pursuing his ideas of 'clean government' is more important to him . . ."

Posted by Woody [TypeKey Profile Page] | March 27, 2007 11:08 AM

What McCain and Feingold(and all who passed that bogus law) don't understand is that money doesn't corrupt. It just makes the corrupt wealthy. Those people are corrupt to begin with.

Woody

Posted by babstinger [TypeKey Profile Page] | March 27, 2007 1:01 PM

AnonymousDrivel -

I figured it would be an expensive proposition, and certainly one that I could not afford.

Woody makes a good point about a group going at it, but as you say, they need to have deep pockets.

Fiengold is the senator in my state. His responses to my letters are "Thanks for writing. Here's my view, and it's the only one that matters." So much for listening to your constituency.

Posted by JAG [TypeKey Profile Page] | March 27, 2007 1:04 PM

The way to end "corruption" in politics is to have timely transparency, not limits, on donations.

Limiting individual contributions (whether by money OR TIME) is to limit the INDIVIDUAL RIGHT to the exercise of free, uninhibited, speech.

Looking back on the history of cases of clear corruption in politics it has always been the difficulty of following the money trail in order to identify and quantify corruption. Today its relatively easy to track the flows of money (and spending that corresponds to a given amount of money flow). Its getting tougher and tougher to hide corrupt transactions.

Why should even the richest persons be limited from supporting those politicians who represent ideas they find important? I don't care who Bill Gates, Barbra Striesand or Laurie David want to shower their money upon; all I want is to know who is providing the money and what THEIR agenda may be.

This game of continuosly chasing hundreds of $2,000 contributions MAY mean less corruption but its arguable when you have wealthy groups of contributors (like lawyers and their firms or bankers and their wealthy employees) who now merely present a "package" of donations. In other words; the "influence" or corruption involved is still there, its simply disquised in what seems to be a more acceptible form.

So what is "accomplished' is nothing with respect to the alleged goal; reducing influence/corruption. If the goal is to eliminate corruption then two devices should be deployed: make penalties outrageous for the CORRUPT POLITICIAN and make enforcement of such laws VIGOROUS.

As it stands now, even the most obvious corruption (Duke Cunningham and Rep. Jefferson cases) drag on interminably.

Let pols get as much money from whatever INDIVIDUAL (NO PAC MONEY) sources they can. Just make them publish the sources, on line, immediately, with complete documentation and download capability (for easy and complete data analysis).

Voters (and your competition) should know where your money/support is coming from and what percentage is derived from any particular source. Prohibit further donations a few weeks or so before the election. Without the internet this degree of fund raising freedom would be much tougher to defend but with the rapid capacity to disseminate critical, timely and accurate information, the reasons to inhibit contributions to any extent are just as feeble as establishing spending limits.


There was never a good excuse to limit individual campaign contributions (by either money or the TIME/work one might provide).
Today there is NO sound reason to continue the unconstitutional limitation of political speech via any contribution, in any form.

Posted by iotrader20 [TypeKey Profile Page] | March 27, 2007 3:10 PM

orman,

Both you and Captain Ed were correct - there was a Sedition Act in the early 20th century as well as the one I cited in 1798....

I also agree with your thoughts on McCain - his actions with BCRA demonstrate either an ignorance of or an indifference to the Constitution that is unacceptable for someone that will take an oath to "preserve, protect, & defend" the Constitution upon inauguration.

Posted by Mr Lynn [TypeKey Profile Page] | March 27, 2007 8:12 PM

I would contribute to a fund to challenge the Campaign Deform Act in court, as would millions of other conservatives.

There are also foundations that would help (how about Mark Levin's Landmark Legal Foundation?), and plenty of smart lawyers who would donate time and expertise (someone call PowerLine!).

Who wants to mount the challenge?

/Mr Lynn

Posted by Rose [TypeKey Profile Page] | March 28, 2007 12:48 AM

I will NEVER vote for McCain, or a Congressman who voted for McCain Feingold, for so much as DOG CATCHER.

I'm tired of being taken for a ride by GOP who let their RINOS lead everyone around by the nose.

NO to McCain - NO to Thompson. NO to anyone who supports McCain, like Thompson has done.