1) Is it your perception that the 2002 McCain-Feingold campaign finance legislation has produced a better informed electorate or a more poorly informed electorate?
2) Do we have more civil or less civil elections compared to the period before?
3) Does that matter?
Whatever your answers to 1), 2) and 3), has it been worth (and this is not arguable, SCOTUS said as much when it declared most of M-F to be constitutional) the chipping away of First Amendment rights?
McCain-Feingold was an utter failure on all those points. The fact that Senator John McCain is proposing further legislation on the matter is sufficient unto the argument.
The New York Times reported in February that Senator McCain was pushing new labyrinthislation (“the bill contains numerous regulations, some quite complex”) to fix massive failures in McCain-Feingold. McCain was not happy about 527 committees like Swift Boat Veterans for Truth and MoveOn.org. He intends to effectively shut them down, by producing regulations on political speech that rival the income tax code.
This initiative has drawn support from such diverse political theorists as President Bush and Senator Charles E. Schumer. It’s drawn the ire of such diverse organizations as the NRA and The Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence.
Whether McCain’s commitment to controlling speech is just hubris, the ability of a “true believer” to persevere despite the evidence, or even simple perfidy intended to make McCain “Senator-for-Life”, or even President, we will probably never know.
We do know there have been only negative results to this point. My personal expectation, based on my reading of history and my observation of government, is that further tinkering will not help. The ability of such tinkering not to help will be directly proportional to its complexity.
It is useful to note that John McCain seems to exempt nonprofit organizations operating under Section 501(c) of the tax code from his new proposal. He would exempt groups like The Reform Institute, a 501(c) campaign finance reform advocacy group.
The Times noted that McCain has ties to this lobbying organization, and that contributors to their cause included cable companies who had lobbied the Senate Commerce Committee during Senator McCain’s chairmanship.
This bothered the Senator… well, not at all. It’s what Democracy is about:
“Mr. McCain said the institute did not run afoul of campaign laws because it did not try to sway elections. “The overwhelming majority of 501(c)(3)’s are advocacy organizations for different causes, and that’s fine,” he said. “That’s what our system should be all about.””
The idea that the regulation of how political campaigns are financed “does not sway elections” is a curious one indeed.
By this logic, The Reform Institute could advocate the elimination of elections. Further, I would agree that they have that right.
John McCain and I differ on the idea that they should have a privileged position for their advocacy based on the judgment of politicians, like John McCain, who benefit from their advocacy.
Get real. The intent of McCain-Feingold is to sway elections. It is otherwise unnecessary. The fact that it sways elections mostly in the direction of incumbents does not damage its attraction for them.
What we are debating is to what extent elections should be swayed and by whom. I prefer pitting George Soros against the National Rifle Association. John McCain prefers to decide it himself.
McCain provides evidence of this megalomania in the weasel words; “overwhelming majority of 501(c)(3)’s are … fine.” Remember, the last time he got involved with regulating political speech he thought 527s were “fine.”
This time he’s hedging that bet. Those 501(c)(3)’s that are not “fine” had better keep a low profile vis-à-vis Senator McCain or the Byzantine exceptions to the First Amendment he champions will reach new levels of absurdity in subsequent rounds of “fixes.”
It gets even more interesting. Today the Times has this update. In McCain Allies Want Reform (and Money) we learn more about The Reform Institute:
The institute has drawn little notice, but it offers a telling glimpse into how Mr. McCain operates. In the four years since its creation, it has accelerated its fund-raising, collecting about $1.3 million last year, double what it raised in 2003, a sizable sum for a group that exists to curb the influence of money in politics.
Mr. McCain, the institute’s most prominent spokesman, defended the large donations as a necessary part of advocacy work, and drew a distinction between the progressive agenda of the Reform Institute and political efforts to which campaign finance laws apply. The institute is different, he said, “because it is nonpartisan and issue-oriented.”
The Times goes on to note that some admirers of Senator McCain believe in Campaign Finance Reform because they believe in the opinion of good men, rather than the rule of law:
Norman J. Ornstein, a Congressional expert at the American Enterprise Institute and a member of the advisory board, said that it was overstating the case to portray the institute as an extension of Mr. McCain’s personal political goals and that he could succeed without it.
“The man is a rock star,” Mr. Ornstein said. “He is doing it for the right reasons.”
McCain is not alone in his 501(c)(3) activities:
Other lawmakers have started similar foundations, said Rick Cohen, executive director of the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy.
The trouble is not the mission of such nonprofit groups or the motivations of their founders, Mr. Cohen said. The problem, he said, lies in the close and unregulated relationship between the nonprofit groups and politicians.
This unregulated relationship is the one Senator McCain described as “fine”, when challenged about his own pet cause. One wonders how he would feel about a 501(c) that advocated, say, changes in cable television regulation:
Some donors, though, are communications industry giants who had business before the Commerce Committee when Mr. McCain was its chairman. Echosphere, a communications company started by Charles Ergen, a founder of EchoStar Communications and the DISH Network, gave $50,000 or more to the institute. So did CSC Holdings, a subsidiary of the Cablevisions Systems Corporation, headed by Charles F. Dolan, and the Chartwell Foundation, the charitable group funded by A. Jerrold Perenchio, the Univision billionaire.
Mr. [Rick] Davis [head of The Reform Institute] and Mr. McCain, who is not currently raising money for his own political purposes, said they saw no problem in accepting donations of that magnitude from foundations associated with people and companies with interests on Capitol Hill.
This quote bears repeating; “The institute is different, [McCain] said, “because it is nonpartisan and issue-oriented.”
So does this quote; “Mr. McCain, who is not currently raising money for his own political purposes”. Why is Campaign Finance Reform not a political purpose? Because John McCain says so?!
If we take the Senator at his word, then he seems unable to recognize the tremendous advertising value of this organization to him, or that its members form the nucleus of his next campaign while being paid by extremely partisan and/or lobbyist currying donors and, most damagingly, he believes that it is somehow non-political because it seems non-partisan. Here’s a clue John; when the partisan hacks reach this kind of consensus it’s because the political benefits are overwhelming. Generally – regard this as a bad thing.
How about this advertising for McCain from The Reform Foundation, or McCain’s efforts to throw out the current Federal Election Commission as ballyhooed here, again by TRF. Check out this whole page! They love John McCain.
OK, it is possible some may view the above as ad-hominem. Yes, they may say, John McCain isn’t perfect, but what he wants is the right thing to do. Well, I cannot disagree with the former and that is what makes the latter irrelevant.
John McCain may be an excellent man. Fortunately, we don’t have a government of the opinions of excellent men.
The more you are inclined to think McCain excellent, the more you should appreciate why we do not want that sort of government. – John, John, he’s our man, if he can’t do it…
Right. Nobody can.
Why do politicians from both parties and of radically differing political philosophies agree on Campaign Finance Reform? Because it attracts donations, keeps the oligarchy intact and lets them pay lip service to “the little guy.”
I’ll believe the little guy is the concern when Senator McCain introduces a Campaign Finance Reform bill specifically targeting Hungarian billionaires who made their money in currency speculation that harmed millions of “little guys” in the United Kingdom and Asia in order to line their own pockets.
Finally, speaking of money, it is useful to know where (aside from cable operators seeking legislation changes) major money for The Reform Institute originates. Here are 2 examples of organizations contributing over $50,000.
Neither would seem able to pass the Senator’s smell test in terms of disclosure.
One wonders why they so favor restriction on money-as-speech when they go to such trouble to obfuscate the sources and destinations of their own funds?
Activistcash reports here on The Tides Foundation:
Set up in 1976 by California activist Drummond Pike, Tides does two things better than any other foundation or charity in the U.S. today: it routinely obscures the sources of its tax-exempt millions, and makes it difficult (if not impossible) to discern how the funds are actually being used.
David Horowitz’ Discoverthenetwork reports here on Tides:
Founded in 1976 by Drummond Pike, a California activist, the Tides Foundation was set up not as a traditional foundation, but as a public charity. This allows it to funnel money from donors to activist or radical recipients, without the donors having to be publicly associated with the groups being funded. Through this legal loophole, nonprofit entities can set up for-profit organizations and funnel money to them through Tides, since, by law, non-profits are not legally allowed to directly fund their own for-profit enterprises. An example of this is the Pew Charitable Trusts (the Tides Foundation’s largest funding source), which set up three for-profit media companies and then proceeded to fund them by donating money to Tides, which in turn sent the money to the Pew media companies (for the standard 8% management fee).
To close, I pass on my resentment that McCain’s tendency speak his mind, however fractured, has caused him to be compared to another Senator from Arizona – Barry Goldwater.
Barry Goldwater could probably now supply the electricity needs of the entire Southwest, if his McCain caused spinning could be converted into power generation. Goldwater died in 1998. Here’s a nice look at his character.
John McCain couldn’t carry Barry’s boots.