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Campaign Finance Reform
for Now

So-called campaign finance reform is gone for now, except for the shouting, the recriminations, the jockeying for position–the 10-cent public dance of the dwarves that denigrates most who participate.

Here’s what appears to have happened. In the last days before the scheduled vote, the bill’s House sponsors were out selling amendments to get votes–"perfecting" and "refining" the bill in the euphemisms of Washington. The end product was thus considerably different from that which had been through the committee process.

The House Rules Committee, which sets the rules for all bills debated on the floor, adopted a rule that would have forced consideration of each of the component parts of the revised bill. Since most members of the House had never read the original bill, much less the new amendments, the rule was as responsible as it was a hardball tactic, the equivalent of making Johnny show his homework in class for all to see.

If the bill’s proponents did not have the votes for the original bill in its totality, it is inconceivable that they would have them once some of the details were exposed. Thus, led by House Minority Leader Richard Gephardt, supplemented by intensive lobbying efforts by Senator John McCain, the bill’s proponents corralled enough votes to kill the rule that would have undoubtedly killed the legislation, ending the process for now.

The Center for Individual Freedom vigorously opposed McCain-Feingold, the original Senate bill, as well as Shays-Meehan, the House derivative. We did so because every version we saw was blatantly unconstitutional, a denial of the free speech rights of all Americans individually and collectively.

We have mixed feelings about the outcome. It is right and proper for the legislative process to end unconstitutional legislation. It should have ended this sooner, for that substantive reason. On the other hand, in light of the disregard by the bill’s proponents for the constitutional issues, and the support of much of the media, which should know better, we would have been happier to have the U.S. Supreme Court make the ultimate decision, ending this attack on the Constitution more definitively.

Because we do not underestimate those who would manipulate the system their way, we may yet get that chance.


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