Is RealCampaignReform.org manipulating the facts?
By Jim Babka
On February 18, 2002, I received a note that said RealCampaignReform.org's reports are, "relying on a manipulation of the facts and the overwhelming assurance that most people will not read the bill or take time to make sense of it . . ." The letter writer went on to educate me about what the bill really said, and why it was actually good. She was especially taken aback by our claims that the bill was an assault on the 1st Amendment.
One doesn't need to read the bill to figure out that it's bad, any more than one has to play in garbage to determine that it stinks. But one should have a good idea what garbage looks like, so that they know it when they see it. In other words, just reading the bill is almost no education whatsoever.
But it really wouldn't have helped to read the bill before we started informing you about the bill and asking you to write your congressperson. Thanks to a Stupid Congressional Trick, the latest version of the Shays-Meehan bill wasn't presented until late night on a Tuesday. It was debated the following day and then voted on first thing the next morning. If everyone waited to re-read the bill before reporting it, no one would've been able to mobilize in opposition. Could it be that the Shays and Meehan intended that?
Our team at RealCampaignReform.org, Inc. has extensive experience in complying with FEC regulation. And we have spent hundreds and hundreds of hours studying this area of law -- the soft-money bills in particular. Allow me to share five reasons I believe we've to come to the right conclusion (that the bill is an assault on 1st Amendment freedoms) and reported that conclusion accurately.
1) Disclosure has a stifling effect on contributions to challengers (or to organizations that will support them). That's why incumbents wanted to change the rules here. A proper comparison comes from the mafia protection rackets. Politicians review these donor databases to determine who their friends (and enemies) are. House Republican Conference Chair Tom Davis started a fundraising program to help the GOP retain its majority based on this information (donors who give less than 2/3 of their contributions to House Republicans lose certain privileges). Yet big money donors, like Enron, are often found contributing nearly equal amounts to both parties (it's called "buttering your bread on both sides"). There would be no reason for "buttering" if it weren't for the disclosure rules.
2) There's a long history of anonymous political discourse in our nation. For example, the Federalist Papers (and many of their anti-federalist counterparts) wrote their works anonymously. It's none of the politicians' business who you and I contribute to and how much we give to them (a future RCR Report will have an entire article on this issue).
3) Thanks to this new law, John Q. Citizen is even less able to participate in the process, without worrying about running afoul of the law. He'll need legal counsel and expensive database experts to help him should he decide to mount an issue campaign (just like if he was a candidate). This won't be a problem to any candidate with megabucks (who aren't covered by the law anyway), but the rest of us have to associate with others to raise the dough necessary to get TV ads on the air.
4) The only reason soft-money contributions (and PAC's) are so prevalent is because people are limited in the amount they can contribute in the first place. Hard-money and soft-money are government creations. These are legal terms that label how money was raised and where it was spent. Hard-money regulations shouldn't even exist. It was creation of these limits that created the overwhelming demand for soft-money giving and PAC's in the first place. Which brings us the next point . . .
5) Abuse of power. If you want to stop a bad bill that could cost your company millions, you'll walk on glass to come-up with a few hundred thousand dollars -- and a way to deliver it -- to protect yourself. The problem is not the abuse of power, it's the power to abuse. And politicians abuse the American people with new regulations and taxes every year. Remove that power from them (as the Constitution intended), and you'll address the problem. But don't pretend that what happened last week is going to stop the flow of money from major corporate donors, large interest groups, and unions. They'll hire reams of specialists to devise new ways around the rules. Of course that will do John Q. Citizen little good, because as I already pointed out, he can't afford that.
6) Never leave the fox to guard the hen-house. Do you really think this bill would've passed if it leveled the playing field? This bill was about incumbent protection from soup to nuts.
7) The campaign finance laws were predicated on the idea of stopping corruption. The Supreme Court even admitted in Buckley v. Valeo that they knew they were abridging the 1st Amendment, but that they were allowed because of the compelling state interest doctrine. (That doctrine, basically, says that the Constitutional protections can be overridden when there is a compelling state interest. It's a load of crap if you ask me . . . the key to overruling the whole thing. But it's the current law of the land.) The Supreme's excuse for invoking that doctrine was the appearance of corruption. Ask yourself a question, "How do Independent Ads corrupt a sitting office-holder?" Better yet, ask your Congressman and Senator.
8) The most important reason to oppose Shays-Meehan is the way the 1st Amendment is written. "Congress shall make no law . . ." What is so hard to understand about that?
We believe we have been quite accurate in our assessment. It is the other side that likes to "manipulate" the facts: like calling independent ads that critique incumbents "sham ads" or labeling people who oppose their bill "special interests." Who is John McCain to say such things? And can he prove his virgin birth?
Jim Babka is the President of American Liberty Foundation and RealCampaignReform.org, Inc., both in Alexandria, VA. Before that, he was the press secretary for Harry Browne, the Libertarian candidate for President in 2000.