Wednesday, March 20, 2002
The Senate has passed incumbent-protection legislation, I mean, campaign-finance reform bill today. On a 60-40 vote, with Democrat John Breaux (D-La.) voting now, and 12 Republicans voting for the bill. It now heads to the White House where there are all indications that President Bush will abandon his pledge to "protect and defend" the Constitution by signing a bill that violates the First Amendment's protections of freedom of speech. If you want a more thorough dissection of this travesty of legislation, you can go here.
Constitutional muster and campaign-finance reform: Some of the changes will stand, others will fall. Here's what the official Hoystory common sense says will remain, once the Supreme Court has its say.
The easy ones:
1. The prohibitions on issue advertising 30 days before a primary and 60 days before a general election will definitely be tossed out. One wonders why they wasted the ink.
2. The doubling of the amount of "hard" money that can be given to a candidate from $1,000 an election cycle to $2,000 an election cycle will certainly hold up.
3. The tightening of disclosure requirements, ban on fundraising on federal property (coffee anyone?) and ban on money from foreign sources will all survive Supreme Court scrutiny.
The tough ones:
1. The ban on unlimited soft-money contributions to the national parties will be struck down. I'm going out on a limb here, and this will gut the "most important" part of campaign-finance "reform," but I think that an outright ban will be too much for the Supreme Court to swallow.
When the last campaign finance law was passed in the wake of the Watergate scandal, the Supreme Court said that campaign contribution limits were only legal if they were designed to reduce corruption or the appearance of corruption. That the individual lawmaker can be influenced by a contribution to the national party is extremely tenuous. A much stronger case can be made to reduce, not increase, the hard-money contributions to candidates, in order to avoid the appearance of corruption.
Reformers complain that the national parties and special interest groups use issue ads to attack candidates, but what people need to realize is that the parties and special interests are made up of people. They do the work of citizens, of voters. When you limit these groups you are infringing upon the freedom to associate, the freedom to speak.
2. Allowing larger contributions to candidates who face wealthy opponents is really a tough one. I'm sure that former Washington Sen. Slade Gorton would have certainly liked the change as he ran against millionaire Maria Cantwell, but money alone has never ensured winning elective office, as Michael Huffington and Darrell Issa could testify. This one will pass constitutional muster, though it is probably the provision which I care the least about. It's the rich running against the super-rich in most of these races anyway. You're not going to ever see a blue-collar worker even running for the Congress because there's no way they could afford to take off work to campaign.
I'm betting that the Supreme Court will end up tossing out most of the "reform." We'll see how right I am down the line, but in the meantime, isn't there something more important all of those politicos up in Washington could've been doing? Like confirming judges to hear the suits against poorly-written, poorly-conceived and unconstitutional laws like this one?