The Corner

Hoist by His Own Petard

Look, I detest MoveOn.org, but I hate campaign finance ‘reform’ far, far more. So far as can be made out from this remarkably confusing set of comments (via Volokh) the administration seems to have been provoked by the success of the 527s into contemplating yet more restrictions on the right of voters to express themselves. Eugene Volokh is not impressed:

“I certainly hope that the Administration is not indeed calling for “an end” — a legal end, via an extension to the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act — to people pooling resources to express their political views, including their views about candidates. You can call it “soft money,” but it’s speech, of the sort that political movements such as the antislavery movement, the temperance movement, the civil rights movement, and many other movements (good and bad) have engaged in. Without such speech, who gets to speak effectively, in the large traditional media? The media itself; the parties; and the politicians who have the infrastructure to raise hard money in $2000 chunks; and a few super-rich people (unless they’re shut up, too). People who care deeply about a subject, enough to pool even tens of thousands of their dollars with others who care equally strongly, would be shut out.”

He’s quite right. And that would be wrong.

Of course, the irony of this whole mess is that the 527s were given their big break by McCain-Feingold, a disgraceful piece of legislation signed into law by the President because, we were told, it was a good thing – except where it was unconstitutional, and where it was unconstitutional, we were told, not to worry, the Supreme Court would throw it out, except the court didn’t. Intellectually incoherent? Yes. Not really, um, presidential? Yup, that too. Should George Bush have vetoed it? Of course.

Some have argued that, veto power or not, Mr. Bush had no choice other than to sign this law, an argument that ignores the fact that at the time he did so, six months after 9/11, the President remained enormously popular. Others have turned to a different theory. According to this article from MSNBC, Bush’s decision to sign was part of a cunning plan: “The increase in the hard money limits on donations to specific candidates was a major reason Bush signed BCRA into law. Republicans knew they had a bigger universe of hard money donors and they figured the doubling of the limits would help them more than it would the Democrats.”

Well, if that really was the cunning plan, it was worthy of Baldrick.

The result of Mr. Bush’s failure to stick to the rather basic principle that free speech is not something to be rationed by politicians is the mess in which he now finds himself.. Rather than restrict the 527s (something the FEC now appears to be trying to do), the President should call on Congress to repeal, or at least substantially modify, McCain-Feingold. Embarrassing? You bet. Difficult, certainly.

But that’s what you get from not having done the right thing in the first place.

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