Thursday, November 18, 2004
Revisionist history: Al Hunt's column in today's Wall Street Journal is entitled "McCain-Feingold Did Its Job" -- an analysis that is laughable to say the least. [Link requires paid subscription.]
The most compelling case for the success of the McCain-Feingold campaign-finance measure is the case that was made against it.
This was a passionately contested national election, many voices were heard and there were unprecedented resources and grass-roots activities. This was exactly what opponents of McCain-Feingold -- which banned the use of soft money, the huge, unregulated sums that dominated previous campaigns -- said would not happen. Instead the sky-is-falling crowd told us:
Political parties would wither away; Republican Sen. Mitch McConnell charged McCain-Feingold meant "the mutual assured destruction of the political parties."
Al Hunt then goes on to recount how much money was raised and poured into political campaigns -- especially the presidential campaign -- in the last election cycle. All toward building a case that McCain-Feingold worked.
Yes, McConnell and others who sued to overturn McCain-Feingold as an unconstitutional infringement on freedom of speech were wrong about the real world impact of the law. But that doesn't mean McCain-Feingold worked.
The goal of the McCain-Feingold law was to get the money out of politics. It failed. Miserably.
Ask Sen. John McCain or Sen. Russ Feingold if they think their law worked with tens, and even hundreds, of millions of dollars worth of ads by so-called 527 groups like Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, Moveon.org PAC, Progress for America Voter Fund, the Media Fund, et cetera, ad infinitum, flooding the airwaves. I can guarantee you that they don't think their law worked.
McCain went on the air repeatedly decrying the 527s and their millions as exploiting a loophole in the law. He, and others, went to the Federal Election Commission to try to stop the 527s -- and failed.
Hunt's column is chock full of evidence that disproves his thesis.
George Bush, who raised twice as much money as Al Gore four years ago in the primaries (the general election is publicly financed), would have such a large advantage the election would be over by June. The facts: Mr. Bush raised $260 million, or nearly three times as much as last time; Sen. Kerry, however, raised $248 million, nearly five times more than Al Gore in 2000; there was no money advantage. Over the Internet, Sen. Kerry raised $82 million, much more than Al Gore raised altogether. This is citizen-involvement money not special-interest dough.
And this proves that McCain-Feingold worked?
Yet the abuses of these 527s shouldn't overshadow the declared purpose of McCain-Feingold, which was to curb the corrupting nexus of big money and federal candidates and officeholders. "Even if some of the money showed up somewhere else," notes longtime campaign-finance reform champion Fred Wertheimer, "the central point was to take federal officeholders out of the game; that's where the corruption took place."
There is no evidence that any corruption ever took place. The Supreme Court made its ruling that McCain Feingold was legal based only upon the "appearance" of corruption.
Hunt tries to give credit to McCain-Feingold based upon the splitting of microscopic hairs, and fails.