- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 10, 2001

This week the debate on campaign-finance reform returns to the House, where two bipartisan bills, as well as a slew of amendments, will be considered. One is the Shays-Meehan bill, which is virtually a carbon copy of McCain-Feingold. The other is sponsored by Republican Rep. Bob Ney of Ohio and Democratic Rep. Albert Wynn of Maryland, who heads the campaign-finance task force for the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC). The Ney-Wynn bill has been endorsed by the Republican leadership, and Democratic leaders support Shays-Meehan. The choice between them is clear. Ney-Wynn is far preferable to Shays-Meehan, and an appropriately amended Ney-Wynn bill would be even more preferable. Still, what would be most preferable is no bill at all.
Shays-Meehan would eliminate soft money donations to the national party committees. These unlimited but fully disclosed contributions are mostly used for party-building activities, such as voter registration and get-out-the-vote drives, and issue-advocacy ads. Essentially, soft money permits political parties to fulfill the functions that underlie their existence. Given full disclosure, soft money, which is donated by corporations, labor unions and individuals, hardly represents the corrupting influence that "reformers" claim it does. Without it, parties could not act as parties. Rightly attributing to soft-money-financed party-building activities the remarkable 65 percent increase in black voter turnout in Florida in 2000, many members of the CBC now hesitate to eliminate soft money completely. The Ney-Wynn bill would limit to $75,000 per year the currently unlimited soft money contributions to each of the parties' three national committees. Unfortunately, however, Ney-Wynn also prohibits these funds from being used to finance issue ads, an undue restriction that should be removed by amendment.
Shays-Meehan, like McCain-Feingold, also severely limits the rights of interest groups to pay for TV and radio ads that refer to a federal candidate within 60 days of a general election and within 30 days of a primary. Ney-Wynn would not stifle such important communications, although it would acceptably require the groups sponsoring them to disclose the names of their officers and the amount spent on the ads within 24 hours.
Shays-Meehan even compromises the one sensible reform of McCain-Feingold, which finally increased to $2,000 the 1974-legislated $1,000 hard money limit for individual contributions to federal candidates. Shays-Meehan would retain the antiquated $1,000 limit for House candidates, although it would finally begin indexing it for inflation. While also beginning to index the hard-money limit for inflation, Ney-Wynn unfortunately retains the $1,000 limit for both House and Senate candidates, an oversight that should be corrected by amendment.
Anyone interested in guaranteeing that voters will have more information about congressional candidates at election time — the most critical period when information about voting records and issue positions irrefutably count the most — will prefer the Ney-Wynn bill, despite its shortcomings. Anyone interested in preserving the First Amendment's guarantee of free speech will prefer the Ney-Wynn bill. Anyone who believes the media should not wield wildly disproportionate influence over the campaigns relative to political parties and voter-organized interest groups should support Ney-Wynn.

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