Scott Tibbs
Published at Enter Stage Right, 02-04-2002

Back to opinion page.

Enron no excuse for attacking freedom

Various editorial page and talking head pontifications from places like the New York Times about the "need" for "campaign finance reform" in the wake of Enron's collapse ignore a very important facet of the debate. Both the Shays-Meehan and McCain-Feingold "campaign finance reform" bills represent an intolerable assault on free speech.

By restricting issue-advocacy groups from informing the public about a candidate's voting record 60 days before an election, these twin monstrosities shred the First Amendment. The arrogance "CFR" supporters show by adding this particular provision is astounding. They actually propose to prohibit citizens from informing the public about policy positions and/or votes of a particular candidate, because those "issue ads" have an effect on the election. Clearly, democracy cannot long survive if educating the voters on how an elected official performs his duties would actually impact on the election. If this clearly unconstitutional provision became law and somehow survived a court challenge, politicians would be able to hide their records, as issue advocacy groups would be unable to expose their votes.

Banning soft money would actually make the fundraising culture worse, because without help from their parties, candidates would have to spend even more time asking for contributions. As it is, members of the House and Senate must spend a significant amount of time fundraising for their re-elections with the contribution limits of $1,000 for individuals and $5,000 for Political Action Committees. This is especially true for House members, who must campaign nearly non-stop with their two-year terms.

Incumbents would be at a major advantage were soft money to be banned. Sitting House and Senate members have the contacts, the name ID and the track record that enables them to solicit contributions. Challengers, meanwhile, may have to rely more heavily on their party. Were soft money to be banned, challengers would be hard-pressed to find the money necessary to run all-important TV spots, in addition to newspaper and radio ads, and direct mail. When you combine this provision with the ban on issue ads within 60 days of an election, it's easy to see why both bills have earned the nickname "Incumbent Protection Act".

Ann Coulter pointed out in a June 28th column that it is absurd to think of contributions by political parties in the same vein as other contributions. A pro-gun PAC may donate to a candidate on the assumption that he will oppose new restrictions on gun rights and maybe work to repeal existing ones. One wouldn't expect a PAC run by Gun Owners of America to contribute to Hillary Clinton or Barney Frank. A political party, meanwhile, has the main goal of getting party members elected regardless.

If Enron proves anything, it is that campaign finance reform is not needed. We finally have an ethical, law-abiding President, who refused to help Enron as they were collapsing. This is despite the fact that both his campaign and his party received donations from people associated with Enron. No influence was bought or sold. In addition, the media has done a decent job of informing the public of who took money from Enron. With this information in hand, we can discern whether a politician has been corrupted by "special interest money" and cast an informed vote.

But the New York Times and other CFR robots clearly don't trust the voters. What the Times, John McCain and others are basically saying by supporting these bills is that they think voters are too stupid to make the right decision and throw out corrupt politicians. So they have to make laws that restrict the American people's freedom of speech and have the federal government regulate campaigns even more than they already do.

President Bush must take a stand for free speech and for trust in the American people by breaking out his veto pen if either Shays-Meehan or McCain-Feingold makes it to his desk. "Campaign finance reform" should consist of full disclosure, and nothing more. Let the voters know who gets money from whom, and then let us decide. We have enough laws on the books to prevent corruption. We need only enforce those laws. A big-government remedy that rips the guts out of the Constitution is no solution at all.