Friday, January 22, 2010

Supremes KO McCain Feingold Bill


    Who can fault "campaign finance reform"? It sound so noble. Throw in the word "bipartian" and you have a law that no one can fault. If you are against campaign finance reform that is "bipartisan" , you may as well come out in favour of world hunger.

The Supreme Court had a different take on this issue when it struck down strategic portion of the McCain Feingold bill, which severely curtailed corporate donations to political campaigns.The Wall Street Journal reports as follows on the landmark decision.

"A divided Supreme Court struck down decades-old limits on corporate political expenditures, potentially reshaping the 2010 election landscape by permitting businesses and unions to spend freely on commercials for or against candidates. President Barack Obama attacked the ruling and said it gave "a green light to a new stampede of special-interest money in our politics," particularly "big oil, Wall Street banks, health-insurance companies and the other powerful interests" that "drown out the voices of everyday Americans." He pledged to work with lawmakers to craft a "forceful response."
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican who has long fought campaign-finance regulations, hailed the court for a "monumental decision" toward "restoring the First Amendment rights of [corporations and unions] by ruling that the Constitution protects their right to express themselves about political candidates and issues up until Election Day."

It is a refreshing display of common sense and respect for free speech that corporate entities and unions can participate openly in the political process. It shows a lack of confidence in the American people that sales pitches for consumer goods are permitted, yet promoting a candidate is off limits. I was always confused when I saw an ad paid by the "Citizens For Tasty Carcinogens Political Action Committee" or the "Committee to Outsource the American Presidency." People who want to pull strings behind the scenes can always find a way to do so.

The last election, John McCain found that he was bound by spending limits that Barack Obama was able to sidestep by refusing government funding for his campaign. Fairness would dictate that both candidates fight by the same rules. It was sweet and delicious irony that McCain was bitten by the law that he championed with such vigor. Bad laws are like bad computer programs. They do exactly what you want and then they mess up in a totally unexpected way.

I want to know who has a candidate in his pocket. If a campaign is forced to log its donations, voters can decide who is beholden to unsavory interests. A law that forces such openness is fine. But a law that bans corporate entities and unions from participating in the political process simply leads to a confusing thicket of PACs that were assembled by someone with an agenda. In the long run, it makes it harder to map who is really behind a candidate.

Bipartisanship is a good thing when it involves uniting around a worthy and transcendent cause. World War Two was won with a bipartisan consensus. There is another kind of bipartisanship that has a lot more to do with ego. It involves taking the public's mind off the issues and focusing on public figures. Having a bill named after you is nice tonic for the ego. How well do such bills help the public? Look at the McCain Feingold bill. It was thankfully tossed by the Supreme Court because it was bad law.

By definition, any bill signed into law is bipartisan. In the best of times, Democrats and Republicans will work together to govern wisely. Someone usually crosses the aisle to pass a bill sponsored by the other party.

Sometimes you have to rally behind your party to defend matters of principle. Political parties have a role in the process.We all know they can be corrupt, but it doesn't have to be that way.

It would be presumptuous of me to applaud the Supreme Court. But I am grateful that they issued a decision that resonates with common sense. I am grateful that the decision was couched in language that was understandable to a layman.

"When government seeks to use its full power, including the criminal law, to command where a person may get his or her information or what distrusted source he or she may not hear, it uses censorship to control thought,"  wrote Justice Anthony Kennedy.

It doesn't get any plainer than that. Sphere: Related Content

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