Mar 092004
Authors: Dan Burkhart

The Flyer News (U. Dayton)

(U-WIRE) DAYTON, Ohio – What is different about the federal

elections of 2004?

Besides the disturbing prediction that this will be the

“nastiest” campaign in presidential history, the McCain-Feingold

Campaign Finance Reform Act will finally be tested in the


Passed with much fanfare before the 2002 mid-term elections, the

proponents of McCain-Feingold had as their principal goal the

elimination of the influence of evil “special interests” in


Among the more interesting provisions were the banning of the

use of soft money in federal elections (money the state political

parties can collect in sometimes unlimited contribution amounts)

and the banning of issue “attack” ads 60 days or closer to an


Will this stop special interests from influencing elections?


Recently, I was invited by the Harvard Law GOP during its annual

D.C. retreat to attend a talk given by Ben Ginsberg and Ann


These two people are the top election law counsel to the

Bush-Cheney 2004 campaign and the National Republican Committee,


What are the real effects of McCain-Feingold, according to


Regarding issue ads, it first must be said that the two main

political parties and congressional/senatorial candidates usually

don’t have enough money to run many television ads more than 60

days before an election. Special interest groups, however, being

banned from running ads when there is two months to an election,

can now concentrate all of their ads on the period before this.

This means that the issues can now be defined by special

interests in the formative, early stages of an election, and the

political parties (being diminished under McCain-Feingold) will be

virtually financially powerless to stop them.

Regarding soft money, many special interests are now starting to

fill the financial void that many candidates are facing (because of

their parties’ diminished ability to spend money). Groups like

EMILY’s List (that donate money to pro-choice women candidates) are

selecting a few specific congressional races (10 to 15) and getting

its vast membership to send those congressmen or congresswomen


The result? Individual congressmen will each become beholden to

one or two specific special interests for their political life.

Thus, any coherent party platform on either side will be incredibly

more difficult to achieve, as the party money has been replaced by

special interest money and compromise simply isn’t as politically


This is not a partisan position. Both speakers freely admitted

that right now, the new laws are benefiting Republicans more than

Democrats. But both lamented the loss of democracy to an even

greater special interest presence in the long run.

What McCain-Feingold ultimately teaches us is that running

roughshod over the First Amendment is never a good thing.

At best you only diminish the freedoms our country is based on,

and at worst, you achieve the exact opposite of what you hoped to


The post McCain-Feingold world will be one where handicapped

political parties struggle to contain special interests stronger

than they ever were before.

The next time we contemplate diminishing the First Amendment in

the name of outrage at “Washington fat cats,” we should remember


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