Powerline‘s Scott Johnson writing for The Daily Standard, asks an excellent question of CFR supporters. What do the campaign-finance reformers really want? His answer is much the same as the one I’ve given, but he helps inform the debate with this:
EVERY REFORM implies an ideal state or condition to which the reformer aspires. The ideal embedded in the First Amendment is that of unrestrained speech keyed to the constitutional system of self-government. What is the ideal state suggested by the logic of campaign-finance reform? Perhaps the most revealing passage in the hundreds of pages generated by the Supreme Court justices in their opinions on McCain-Feingold comes in Justice Scalia’s dissent. Scalia notes the usual good-government rhetoric regarding “the prevention of corruption or the appearance of corruption” in which campaign-finance reform always comes wrapped. He also takes a look under the wrapping:
[L]et us not be deceived. While the Government’s briefs and arguments before this Court focused on the horrible “appearance of corruption,” the most passionate floor statements during the debates on this legislation pertained to so-called attack ads, which the Constitution surely protects, but which Members of Congress analogized to “crack cocaine,” 144 Cong. Rec. S868 (Feb. 24, 1998) (remarks of Sen. Daschle), “drive-by shooting[s],” id., at S879 (remarks of Sen. Durbin), and “air pollution,” 143 Cong. Rec. 20505 (1997) (remarks of Sen. Dorgan). There is good reason to believe that the ending of negative campaign ads was the principal attraction of the legislation. A Senate sponsor said, “I hope that we will not allow our attention to be distracted from the real issues at hand-how to raise the tenor of the debate in our elections and give people real choices. No one benefits from negative ads. They don’t aid our Nation’s political dialog.” Id., at 20521–20522 (remarks of Sen. McCain). He assured the body that “[y]ou cut off the soft money, you are going to see a lot less of that [attack ads]. Prohibit unions and corporations, and you will see a lot less of that. If you demand full disclosure for those who pay for those ads, you are going to see a lot less of that . . . .” 147 Cong. Rec. S3116 (Mar. 29, 2001) (remarks of Sen. McCain). See also, e.g., 148 Cong. Rec. S2117 (Mar. 20, 2002) (remarks of Sen. Cantwell) (“This bill is about slowing the ad war. . . . It is about slowing political advertising and making sure the flow of negative ads by outside interest groups does not continue to permeate the airwaves”); 143 Cong. Rec. 20746 (1997) (remarks of Sen. Boxer) (“These so-called issues ads are not regulated at all and mention candidates by name. They directly attack candidates without any accountability. It is brutal . . . . We have an opportunity in the McCain-Feingold bill to stop that . . .”); 145 Cong. Rec. S12606–S12607 (Oct. 14, 1999) (remarks of Sen. Wellstone) (“I think these issue advocacy ads are a nightmare. I think all of us should hate them . . . . [By passing the legislation], [w]e could get some of this poison politics off television”)
Here Scalia hits the mother lode: He discovers that, in one sense, incumbent officeholders tend to have a profound disdain for politics. The ideal of incumbent officeholders promoting campaign-finance reform is freedom from criticism, especially at election time. Indeed, these incumbent officeholders seem to view elections as an inconvenience to their exercise of power.
Um… yes. It captures the self-interest denying, Pollyanna-pretense, mock-outrage of Huey Long err… John McCain, perfectly.