February 12th, 2005
Back to Opinion page
David Broder claims that 2004 was "a win for campaign reform" in his February 3 column. Broder is correct in pointing out that, contrary to predictions, political parties were not weakened by "CFR". Both the Democrats and Republicans raised record amounts of "hard money". But this does not excuse rhe excesses of the McCain-Feingold "campaign finance reform" law.
It can be argued that, because of the nature of modern campaigns, money IS speech. Virtually every method that candidates for elective office use to communicate with voters requires money to use. A candidate or a political party cannot send direct mail, buy radio, television, or newspaper ads, buy hosting and a domain name for a Web page and have it developed, or set up a phone bank without money. Furthermore, "soft money" donated to political parties had the ability (before it was banned) to provide balance a campaign where one candidate (usually an incumbent) has a clear advantage in raising "hard money". This ban hurts smaller parties like the Libertarians and Greens.
Limitations on political contributions, however, is not the most troubling part of "CFR". The most troublesome part of "CFR" is, by far, the ban on "issue advertisements" by some not-for-profit groups. In order to achieve the goal of "clean" campaigns, Congress actually passed a law to regulate the content of political speech when it matters most, right before an election. In the Orwellian world of Washington politicians, it somehow "cleans up" politics to ban some groups from criticizing the voting records of candidates for elective office.
But, much to the chagrin of Broder and others, freedom found a way. The McCain-Feingold "CFR" law created a new portion of the tax code for which the "527" groups (like the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth) are named. These "527" groups were a major factor in the 2004 election, raising millions for political ads and bringing both issues and candidates' records intro the public arena. Freedom of speech was vibrant last year thanks to the "527" groups, and media coverage of those groups gave candidates (and their opponents) an opportunity to respond to statements made by these groups.
But that did not sit well with politicians who fear the voters being informed of their records or being activated on issues they wish to avoid. These politicians are now looking for ways to restrict the free speech rights of the "527" groups as well, making it more difficult to criticize their voting records.
This should be an outrage to all Americans who love freedom. Washington politicians, fearing an informed electorate, are looking for ways to prevent people from criticizing them when it matters most. Average Americans can form "527" groups, independent of a political party or candidate, to raise issues they believe are important yet are not being addressed by the two candidates. These groups can influence the results of an election.
What about eliminating the portion of the tax code dealing with "527" groups? First, some information on the code (as it stands now) from the IRS web site:
The reason this provision should continue to exist is because it prevents the tax code from being an impediment to political speech. Subjecting "527" groups to taxation would be an infringement on political speech, because a portion of the donations would have to be sent to the government. This would leave less money available for purchase of advertisements explaining the "527" group's point of view.
I do not have a problem the fact that donations to "527" groups cannot be deducted from income taxes as a "charitable" contribution, as is the case with 501(c)3 groups. The "527" groups themselves, however, should not be subject to federal taxes. This would be double taxation, since money donated to these groups is already subject to federal taxes. Contributions to "527" groups are public information, so the American people know who is paying for this political speech.
Why are Washington politicians so determined to attack freedom of speech? The answer is obvious. They want to be re-elected. Incumbents already have a huge advantage in a political campaign because of name recognition and media coverage, but they want to increase that advantage by attacking the ability of the American people to criticize them.
McCain-Feingold was a travesty, an attack on free speech that never should have passed or been allowed to stand by the Supreme Court. We must not allow the enemies of freedom to pass more laws to restrict political speech. Another round of "campaign finance reform" would be an insult to the memory of all those brave men who have bled, died and sacrificed to defend our freedom.