Sunday, December 01, 2002
Free speech, history and the courts: If you haven't read it, check out George Will's latest column on the Incumbent Protection Act, aka McCain-Feingold.
Will points out that the purpose of McCain-Feingold, in the very words of its supporters, was to prevent negative ads run against them -- not to prevent the appearance of corruption. The NRA was one of the prominent targets of the legislation, and is one of the many fighting the legislation in the courts.
The NRA's lead attorney, Charles Cooper, argues:
The Supreme Court has held that the only permissible reason for restricting campaign expenditures is to prevent corruption of public officials or the appearance of it. But how can corruption or its appearance arise from political communications by a voluntary membership organization whose communications are paid for by 4.3 million members who make themselves heard by pooling dues and contributions that average $30?
Cooper, using language from the late Justice Thurgood Marshall, writes that the NRA's voice reverberates in Congress because the organization is "millions of Americans speaking in unison. That 'is not a corruption of the democratic political process; it is the democratic political process.' "
I certainly hope that the courts have the good sense to strike this down, but you can never tell. I thought that many of the restrictions on peaceful anti-abortion protestors would have been struck down when challenged in the courts, but I was wrong.
Let's hope that the courts don't choose to go further down that road.
*UPDATE* I just read The Washington Post's preview article on the upcoming court case. I found the following case study being presented by the bill's supporters to be very interesting.
One example cited in the legal filings concerned Citizens for Reform, a murky nonprofit corporation. In 1996, the group paid for television commercials in several congressional districts, including Montana's lone House district, where Democrat Bill Yellowtail was running against Republican Rick Hill.
"Who is Bill Yellowtail?" the commercial asked. "He preaches family values, but took a swing at his wife. And Yellowtail's response? He only slapped her, but 'her nose was not broken.' . . . Call Bill Yellowtail. Tell him to support family values."
Yellowtail lost to Hill in the election.
I'd defer to an expert on Montana politics as to whether the ad in question was as decisive in the election as the Post's reporting seems to suggest.
But my question is this: This is supposed to be bad? Excuse me, but I want to know what kind of person my congressman/woman is. I want to know if the guy beats his wife. There's no indication that this charge was proven false. While a little distasteful, I think this is one of the good things about issue advocacy ads. It's information about a candidate that many people might not have known; information that is important to the electoral process.