Anyone who actually believed that McCain-Feingold was about cleaning up politics rather than just protecting incumbent political jobs can now disabuse themselves of that notion. It has become clear that election finance laws are pure Machiavellian politics, passed by those who think it will work to their benefit (ie help them in the next election) and opposed by those who think they will be hurt by it. Principle almost never plays a part any more.
On April 5, House Republicans voted to limit the speech of 527 groups, who up until now were exempt from McCain-Feingold speech restrictions. Republicans generally supported the restrictions, despite years of saying that money does not tarnish politics, because, well because Democrats were better last election than Republicans at raising money via 527's. Democrats, who historically as a party have supported campaign finance and speech restrictions and eagerly voted for McCain-Feingold, oppose the legislation for no principled reason except that 527's are working for them. Democrats will therefore likely prevent this bill from passing the Senate.
George Will has a nice column lambasting the Republican Congress:
If in November Republicans lose control of the House of
Representatives, April 5 should be remembered as the day they
demonstrated that they earned defeat. Traducing the Constitution and
disgracing conservatism, they used their power for their only remaining
purpose -- to cling to power. Their vote to restrict freedom of speech
came just as the GOP's conservative base is coming to the conclusion
that House Republicans are not worth working for in October or
venturing out to vote for in November.
The "problem" Republicans
addressed is that in 2004 Democrats were more successful than
Republicans in using so-called 527 organizations -- advocacy groups
named after the tax code provision governing them. In 2002 Congress
passed the McCain-Feingold legislation banning large "soft money"
contributions for parties -- money for issue-advocacy and
organizational activities, not for candidates. In 2004, to the surprise
of no sensible person and most McCain-Feingold supporters, much of the
money -- especially huge contributions from rich liberals -- was
diverted to 527s. So on April 5, House Republicans, easily jettisoning
what little remains of their ballast of belief in freedom and limited
government, voted to severely limit the amounts that can be given to
He captures a priceless quote that gets at the heart of why Congressional incumbents love these campaign finance laws:
Candice Miller (R-Mich.) said that restricting 527s would combat
"nauseating ugliness, negativity and hyperpartisanship." Oh, so that is
what the First Amendment means: Congress shall make no law abridging
freedom of speech unless speech annoys politicians.
Props, by the way, to my Representative John Shadegg for his no vote, as well as to my favorite Congressman Jeff Flake, who voted no as well.