Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Shoveling Free Speech

The Washington Post today has an article on the effect of the §527 committees on the race for control of Congress this fall. You will remember that the §527 committees were a creation of the campaign finance atrocity called McCain Feingold. In the 2004 election, George Soros an Swift Boat Veterans were two of the most prominent of these groups. Most thoughtful observers have understood that this creation, which was offered in part to reconcile the expected demands of First Amendment political rights that showed up in the Vallejo case (which limited an earlier proposal to limit campaign spending as an inappropriate fetter on political speech), has been a disaster.

What §527 has done is aptly described in the Post this morning which describes the process of "shoveling" cash into tight races. What is troubling is the effect of this "reform." McCain Feingold was written to limit the negative effects of cash in the political process. In reality what it seems to have done is only to make it a bit more confusing to understand who is funding a campaign. The Post cites several §527 efforts where the influence of outside money has been the predominant force. In California this year, public employee unions will shovel more than $10 million into outside expenditures to try to defeat the Governor. At this point those funds seem to be mainly a waste of time (Angelides is far down in the polls - the San Jose State poll has suggested him down by more than 20 points and the Field poll says he is behind by 17). But that is not the point.

In the 1880s New York had a senator named Roscoe Conkling, who actually resigned from the Senate because of a "reform" that limited his patronage abilities. Conkling said at one point "Those that fear the attraction that patriotism holds for scalawags and scofflaws, have failed to notice the clarion call that reform has for these same scoundrels." Perhaps he was anticipating §527.

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