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President Bush signed the campaign finance reform bill
March 27, 2002 10:08 AM   Subscribe

President Bush signed the campaign finance reform bill today. Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky immediately filed a lawsuit to stop the bill. Campaign finance reform is one of the most widely popular bills with over 75% of voters supporting it. Why are some legislators so desperate to stop it? Maybe it's because television broadcasters don't want to lose the money paid to air political commercials.
posted by patrickje (22 comments total)

 
that, and there's also the fact that it's unconstitutional.
posted by Mick at 10:26 AM on March 27, 2002


... and (as countless other news orgs have reported) it's nowhere near comprehensive, and gives more political power to rational special interest groups including the nra. (too lazy to look up a liberal interest group, sorry for the perceived bias.)
posted by krewson at 10:30 AM on March 27, 2002


Since when are our elected representatives in the business of filing lawsuits to challenge the laws that their own bodies pass? Wouldn't that best be left to a private group that feels that it's freedom of speech is being impinged upon by the monetary limits? Not that I buy for a minute that money is equivalent to speech.
posted by trox at 10:31 AM on March 27, 2002


And from your high seat on the Supreme Count Mick, you feel confident to make that decision for us?
posted by patrickje at 10:46 AM on March 27, 2002


What Mick said. The law infringes on political speech, the most protected kind. Look for an appeals court to swat it down without breaking a sweat, and for the Supreme Court to decline to review the appellate court's ruling. And that will be the end of this unconstitutional law.
posted by Holden at 10:52 AM on March 27, 2002


I understand that this can be seen as a 1st amendment issue, but if one assumes that the political process has been usurped by the wealthy and by corporations, how do you fix it without infringing on constitutional rights?
posted by panopticon at 11:20 AM on March 27, 2002


you don't, that's what the constitution is for...
posted by rhyax at 11:30 AM on March 27, 2002


Campaign finance reform is one of the most widely popular bills with over 75% of voters supporting it.

Your link is to a press release that is more than two years old, that simply says the public is in favor of "campaign finance reform" as a general concept. This is about as meaningful as a poll stating that most people are in favor of equality for all races. Sure they are, but once your start bringing up specific bills and informing the polled voter about what the bill entails, the numbers drop precipitously. (How many people would support a law that demanded equality of RESULT for all races instead of equality of OPPORTUNITY?)

Your statement has no relevance whatsoever to what they may feel about THIS SPECIFIC BILL, completely ignores the fact that public opinion can change wildly on an issue over the course of such a huge length of time, and - most importantly - conveniently leaves out the fact that CFR is consistently so far down the list of voters' "most important issues" that most people would never think about it at all if the news media hadn't been shoving it, and Enron, down their throats for the last few months.

And the broadcasters lobby issue didn't come up until very late in the game. Those of us that believe in the First Amendment have been against this from day one.

By the way, how come beloved CFR champion John McCain saw to it that he got an exception for HIS favorite pet soft money contributors: Indian Tribes?

Oh well, it's all irrlevevant. Utterly unconstitutional.

I understand that this can be seen as a 1st amendment issue, but if one assumes that the political process has been usurped by the wealthy and by corporations, how do you fix it without infringing on constitutional rights?

You create your own groups, pool your money and fight fire with fire.
posted by aaron at 11:36 AM on March 27, 2002


If it was so clear that this bill would be judged unconstitutional by the courts, it would have passed a long time ago; opponents wouldn't have shelled out such a huge amount of money fighting it. The outcome will almost certainly be that the courts strike down parts of the law while they uphold other parts.
posted by spira at 12:31 PM on March 27, 2002


trox - Even though McConnell is an elected official, he's also still an ordinary citizen - entitled to file lawsuits and challenge laws just like any of us regular folk are.
posted by schlyer at 12:34 PM on March 27, 2002


You create your own groups, pool your money and fight fire with fire.
So aaron, you're telling us the way get politicians to listen to us is to PAY them to listen to us(or more realistically our lobbyists)? I thought that was the point of voting? The issue is that campaign financing is distorting how politicians act. It's nice that you can declare this unconstitutional off-hand.
If that were true, I would wave my hand "DCMA, I'm not worried, it's unconstitutional, so it's irrelevant to me".
posted by patrickje at 12:48 PM on March 27, 2002


By the way, how come beloved CFR champion John McCain saw to it that he got an exception for HIS favorite pet soft money contributors: Indian Tribes?

Maybe because past precedent is that the feds have dealt with the tribes (badly, IMHO) as independent nations?

Just my initial reaction, BTW, and I would certainly like to know if anyone is aware of what the law was on that previously.
posted by PeteyStock at 12:52 PM on March 27, 2002


i don't understand how making donations counts as political speech. like are monetary transactions covered under the the first amendment? could someone please explain?

btw, i'd be all for it if like buying drugs (or whatever :) was considered protected speech. it's art!
posted by kliuless at 1:01 PM on March 27, 2002


So aaron, you're telling us the way get politicians to listen to us is to PAY them to listen to us(or more realistically our lobbyists)?

No, I'm telling you to pay the lobbyists. Or buy ads on TV to convince more constituents to call/fax/email their representatives on a given important issue. Etc. (Congressmen, by the way, do not have their secretaries sit by the front door of their offices, holding a list of who's donated how much to their campaigns lately, with an order to not let anybody in that hasn't ponied up some cash. Making contributions != automatic guaranteed access. Not making contributions != automatic refusal to see you, take your calls, answer your emails, etc. I don't recall ever writing my senator or Congressman about anything, but my father does, relatively often. He ALWAYS gets replies; they are usually form letters, but are occasionally personal responses. He has been able to speak to our congressman personally on the phone. And he's never given a dime to any individual's campaign.)

I thought that was the point of voting?

The point of voting is to choose who to represent you. Beyond that you have every right (well, not EVERY right; you can't physically threaten or directly bribe them) to attempt to influence them on any issue that might come up. Likewise, the elected representative has every right to ignore you if he/she wishes and vote however he/she wants. You then have the right to vote against him/her next time.

The issue is that campaign financing is distorting how politicians act.

I do not believe it's distorting how politicians act. It's always been this way for as long as the Republic has existed. People and groups lobby Congress. That's part of the process.

It's nice that you can declare this unconstitutional off-hand. If that were true, I would wave my hand "DCMA, I'm not worried, it's unconstitutional, so it's irrelevant to me".

I'm not convinced that the Supreme Court would strike down the DCMA. As scummy a bill as it is, I'm not aware (though I haven't examined it that closely yet) that there's anything in it that would actually be a violation of any Constitutional clause. OTOH, I fully believe that at least parts of the CFR bill, if not all of it, are so blatantly in violation of the First Amendment that there's a virtually 100% chance it/they'll be tossed out by the SCOTUS.
posted by aaron at 1:54 PM on March 27, 2002


I can buy into the theory that contributing to a candidate is a form of speech since it's a way of espousing the same beliefs held by the candidate. However, when someone contributes to both sides in an election, the only belief being espoused is the one that you can buy favor no matter who wins.
posted by joaquim at 1:59 PM on March 27, 2002


i don't understand how making donations counts as political speech.

Here's the court case: Buckley v. Valeo

And here's an analogy of how donations are similar to speech (just as flag [burning] is a form of speech).

I cannot afford to take out a full page ad in the New York Times to show my support for my right to bear arms. However, if I get 5,000 people together, we can each chip in $50 and run that ad. I don't have the time to find and organize such a campaign, but fortunately the NRA has taken the lead. I'm happy when they give my money to candidates that support my view. They can use my money to buy airtime to spread the messages I support.

What really kills me is that if any of the people who pushed this bill through really believed in it, they wouldn't have exempted themselves from this election cycle. They also wouldn't have added more loopholes than good swiss cheese.

If I gave anyone on this board $5mm would you automatically become corrupt? Of course not. Money doesn't make people corrupt. Period.
posted by stormy at 2:12 PM on March 27, 2002


What did Jon Stewart say last week? Campaign finance is the issue with the highest importance to boredom ratio.

spira: The Republicans pushed non-severability on this bill last year. If the courts strike down a part of it, the whole thing gets tossed out. It was Wellstone who proposed the advertising ban and the Republicans backed it so they could create the a first amendment issue which we’re in now. It was a big gamble they’re going to lose in court.

The great thing about campaign finance is that it pisses off all the right people: political consultants, broadcasters, some Democrats, some Republicans. People are getting rich off our political process—they benefit more the worse any single election gets.

Campaign finance may get to the Supreme Court due to its high profile and the Court’s crop of conservative activists. Speech, political and otherwise, is regulated in every single state in a variety of ways. They heard a case a couple days ago about political speech in Minneasota being regulated and didn’t seem too interested in getting rid of it.
posted by raaka at 2:37 PM on March 27, 2002


Whether this is overturned or not makes - IMO - little difference. It will change things, but they will likely simply be ... different. Not better, not worse (whatever either of those things mean). Nothing is capable of altering the basic fundamentals of our representative democracy. We've got 300 million or so people here. More than 200 million eligible to register to vote. They are represented by one President, 100 Senators, and 435 Congresspeople. Each Senator represents (on average) 2 million possible voters. Each Congressperson around a half million. They each have a handful of staff members.

Given this, there will always be relatively immense pressure directed at that small group of elected representatives (imagine trying to pour the Mississippi through the funnel you use to change the oil in your car ... it's pretty much that intense).

Naturally, politicians will always attempt to meet with, and talk to any individual voters they can ... but really the only functional way to know how to represent that huge of a constituancy is to pay attention primarily to the groups that form within the whole. And the only way to really influence the process is by finding similarly thinking people, and joining with them. Groups can be any organization of people that have distinct goals ... be they corporations or unions, the NRA or PETA.

Money is nothing in and of itself, it is a means of conveying support, a means of organizing groups and getting group voices heard. It is a way of speaking. But fiddling with the means cannot alter the basic math. We are a large country, with the most powerful economy in the world, large amounts of resources floating around, and filled with people that have pretty strong opinions on an awful lot of things. Simply fiddling with campaign finances doesn't alter that a bit, it merely alters the mechanisms by which that money will be used, and by which those strong voices will express themselves.

So long as 300 million people in a powerful, rich nation are represented by 436 individuals at the national level you will not remove money from politics. You will always have people coalesing around like interests, and always see them seeking ever new ways of using whatever financial resources they can raise to try to assert their perspective.

So long as the forces desiring to influence are as big as the Mississippi, and the target of the influence is a(relatively) infitesimal group of people, the ultimate end is pretty much going to be the same whether the funnel you try to force the water through is round, or you engage in dramatic "reforms" to make it slightly oval.

[NOTE: Hope this doesn't have a cynical tone - I think we do a damn good job of implementing representative democracy ... not compared to an unachievable ideal, but compared to most of the other countries on this planet ...].
posted by MidasMulligan at 4:18 PM on March 27, 2002


aaron: ...how come beloved CFR champion John McCain saw to it that he got an exception for HIS favorite pet soft money contributors: Indian Tribes?

That statement is incorrect. Soft money from the tribes is banned by the new bill. As far as hard money goes, Indian tribes are limited to a $2000 donation per candidate per election cycle, the same as any other individual or organization. John McCain will be getting a fraction of what he did previously since the big soft money donations from the tribes are now banned.

What you may be referring to is an obscure ruling by the FEC two years ago saying that, unlike individuals, the tribes are not limited to a combined total of $25,000 hard money to all candidates. Therefore tribes might be able to contribute to more candidates than other individuals can, but only $2000 to each. This ruling occurred two years ago so it is certainly not part of the McCain bill. Also, it is just an administrative ruling, not law, and can be patched up if it is deemed unfair.
posted by JackFlash at 6:17 PM on March 27, 2002


Krewson: ... and (as countless other news orgs have reported) it's nowhere near comprehensive, and gives more political power to rational special interest groups including the nra.
If this benifits the NRA so much, why would it file a lawsuit against it the very day it was signed into law?
posted by peterbaer at 8:49 PM on March 27, 2002


thanks stormy that was helpful. i guess the sticking point for banning soft money then is the "relative to a clearly identified candidate" clause, which comes down to disclosure.

if the the political machine doesn't practice fair disclosure then campaign contributions are fungible and therefore can be "laundered" making them legal under the first amendment.

if it is disclosed where soft money is going (issue vs. candidate) then it wouldn't be soft anymore and hence subject to regulation. so strengthen disclosure laws, increase accountability and no more soft money!

right? :)
posted by kliuless at 9:15 PM on March 27, 2002


I've heard about the Indian Tribe exemption several times, myself, but in my initial read of HR 2356 ENR, I can't find any reference that way. If it is there, where is it? If not, can you show me why some people think it *IS* there?
posted by dwivian at 8:16 AM on March 28, 2002


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