Originally Published: April 13, 2001 7:15 p.m.
Senator McCain would have us believe that Senate Bill S.27, the McCain-Feingold-Cochran Campaign Finance Reform Bill, is the way to solve the problem of too much money and not enough new ideas in politics.
Having read the bill, I think it is simply a way for politicians to limit voters' rights under the guise of curbing candidates' excesses. It attacks the supply side of campaign contributions where our First Amendment rights reside rather than the demand side where political ambition lives.
House Minority Leader Richard Gephart has said freedom of speech and clean elections are not compatible. That statement is true only if voters are willing to accept the idea that we can solve this problem from the supply side. If limiting the influence of money on elections were Senator McCain's true ambition, he would focus on the demand side.
The Constitution originally provided for the legislatures of each state to elect senators. Senators were supposed to be their state government's representatives to the federal government, not direct representatives of John Q. Public. That responsibility falls to the House of Representatives. Could big money buy the votes of state legislators to influence the election of Senators? It's always possible to buy crooked politicians, but it surely would cost less than it does now. Repeal of the 17th Amendment would have more influence on campaign finance impropriety than anything in S.27.
Presidential candidates need money to influence voters, yet the Constitution made no provision for direct election of the president. Electors of the Electoral College choose the president. When one reads Hamilton's explanation, in the Federalist Paper #68, of the process and its benefits, one surely has to wonder why a presidential candidate would need much money to carry his message to the electoral committees of the various states.
Senator McCain could advocate going back to the constitutional method of electing the president if he were serious about limiting the influence of money in that campaign. Remove the demand side, and the supply side becomes unnecessary.
I can find no mention in S.27 of prohibiting the use of money from sources outside the state a candidate intends to represent. How can it be proper for California money, for example, to influence Arizona elections? The Senator seems to have missed yet another demand-side opportunity for true reform.
I did find in S.27 provisions that make it very difficult for an advocacy group to inform voters about issues that matter to them, such as a candidate's voting record, without reporting it as a campaign contribution. (Senator McCain is among those who have complained about the publication of their voting record during a campaign.) S. 27 also provides a means to prohibit unsolicited volunteer work for an issue or candidate unless it reports it as campaign contributions. Although the proponents of this bill will say that these are not what they want the bill to prevent, we need to protect ourselves from what could be because it very often becomes what is, once the smoke clears.
This debate contains insufficient references to personal integrity. When a politician wants to enact a law in which he puts limits on himself, I would suggest he lacks the personal integrity to do the right thing in the first place and is interested only in the appearance of propriety. Laws don't change that.
Politicians with the requisite personal integrity don't need these laws; they simply do the right thing. Voters should require nothing less in a candidate. That is demand-side campaign finance reform at its best. Demand-side is the only effective campaign finance reform and the only way the voter will be able to become more involved, which is what Senator McCain says he wants.
(Jim Mitchell is Bagdad Republican precinct committeeman and a member of the John Birch Society.)