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As more and more Members of Congress... attend “McCain-Feingold School,”... we predict that fewer and fewer will feel as kindly toward the legislation...

When Dinner with the Governor Could Be a Felony
McCain-Feingold 101:  (For Those Who Passed It)

It is not uncommon for the U.S. Congress to pass measures that those voting for them have neither read nor understood.  Rarely does that matter much to those doing the passing, since the impact is predominantly on the rest of us.  Besides, all legislation is for our own good, even when we don’t comprehend that, and we should just be grateful, shoulder the consequences and accept the wisdom of the ignorant and inept.

Even so, there can be the occasional mirthful moment when those worthies forget to don their political Depends.  Thus it was when we read a fascinating account in The New York Times that describes so-called “McCain-Feingold School,” seminars set up by political party lawyers to explain the no-nos and gotchas of campaign finance reform – to those responsible for it.

Keep in mind, as we hope all who voted for the bill will, that it was The Times which exhorted them in about a gazillion editorials to support the bill in the first place.

That would be the same paper that thinks the French are still way cool and Norah Jones isn’t because she didn’t invent hip-hop.  The same paper that believes contemporary women have no cause greater than to get some rich biddie a membership in Augusta National Golf Club.  That liberal talk radio, which would presumably adopt the paper as its core curriculum, is the political wave of the future.

Yes, that would be the same paper that assured and asserted the constitutionality of McCain-Feingold, even as its most authoritative First Amendment lawyer, Floyd Abrams, became one of the lead attorneys for those of us who say nay.

What The Times knew about the details of campaign finance reform and when they knew are still open questions.  We certainly don’t remember the paper previously writing that violation is “a felony carrying a prison sentence of as much as five years.”  That, of course, would be for something really bad, like a U.S. Senator hosting a fundraiser on behalf of a governor.  Or perhaps the same senator succumbing to a life of crime by not appearing for four seconds in his own campaign commercial—the so-called “stand by your ad” provision.

“I didn’t realize what all was in it,” Representative Bob Matsui (D-Calif.) told The Times after he attended a seminar.  He supported it.  He voted for it.  He’s the new Chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.  Whoops!

As more and more Members of Congress, staff and political consultants attend “McCain-Feingold School,” learning très late about “vast amounts of unfamiliar…restrictions” that they put upon themselves, we predict that fewer and fewer will feel as kindly toward the legislation or its namesakes (not forgetting Shays and Meehan over on the House side) as they once “signified.”

In fact, as the political discomfort becomes more and more humorous, we who so vigorously opposed the legislation, having stayed up nights to understand it before it was passed, have thought about joining The Times in supporting it.  But that would be wrong.

[Posted February 20, 2003]