Last week the House of Representatives passed the Shays-Meehan campaign finance reform bill which is probably doomed to die in the Senate (which is a good thing). In a very confusing article, CNSNews.Com quoted Ralph Nader to the effect that he opposes Shays-Meehan, but is this accurate?
Quoting from the CNSNews.Com article,
Former Green Party presidential candidate Ralph Nader . . . criticized the Shays-Meehan campaign finance legislation Monday, arguing it would infringe on free speech without ending corruption in the system.
“It’s like trying to stop water from running downhill. It will squirt away and keep running downhill and take our democracy with it,” said Nader Monday at a Washington news conference.
If accurate, this is a bit odd considering that |Public Citizens| was jumping for joy at the passage of Shays-Meehan last week with a headline on its web site in large type reading simply, “We Won!” In a press release, Public Citizen’s |Joan Claybrook| gushed said, “Finally, it seems that enough lawmakers have become as disgusted with the shakedowns as the rest of us. We are truly heartened that soft money may soon be eliminated from federal politics.”
Shays-Meehan is, of course, a) unconstitutional and b) a backdoor to censorship.
The bill would ban all soft money donations, apparently ignoring that fact that in Buckley v. Valejo the Supreme Court already ruled that such a ban was unconstitutional. Perhaps the “reformers” are hoping that the Supreme Court will have a change of heart, but in order to do so it would have to grant federal authority over non-federal activities of political parties and, if anything, the current incarnation of the Supreme Court is moving in the opposite direction.
It is also a bit odd to see liberals, leftists and some conservatives celebrating a bill that includes blatantly unconstitutional censorship. Under Shays-Meehan ads, it is illegal for corporations, labor unions or nonprofits to broadcast ads that mention the name of a candidate for federal office within 60 days of an election. If somebody digs up dirt on a politician after that 60 day threshold, advocates will just have to cross their fingers that the press will make a big stink about it. Many of the ads run by labor unions and the NAACP in 2000 attacking Republicans for their positions on race and labor would have been illegal under this bill.
Shays-Meehan also requires full disclosure about donations from all advocacy groups that run independent ads. So Jesse Helms will be able to have a list of everybody who donated to groups running advertisements criticizing him for his stand on race or AIDS. Yeah, that’s a big improvement.
Interestingly, like all good state restrictions on rights, Shays-Meehan invents a whole new vocabulary for criticizing or praising candidates for office. Rather than speech, ads mentioning candidates would be categorized as “electioneering communications.”
Not that this will ever happen because, again, this portion of Shays-Meehan is clearly unconstitutional and will get the boot from the Supreme Court. But it is still interesting nonetheless to seem some politicians and commentators fall all over themselves to declare this sort of retrograde legislation as “progress” and “reform.”
Third parties decry campaign finance bill. Jim Burns, CNSNews.Com, February 19, 2002.
Senators mull campaign finance bill. Las Vegas Sun, February 18, 2002.
Public financing is key to true campaign finance reform. Marie Cocco, New York Newsday, February 14, 2002.
House Vote Heralds New Era; Bush Should Approve Campaign Finance Reform Measure. Joan Claybrook, Public Citizen, press release, February 14, 2002.