- The Washington Times - Friday, July 13, 2001

As the House of Representatives considers campaign-finance reform, I am struck by the prevalence of rhetorical statements that have no basis in fact. The most obvious is the notion that the Shays-Meehan and McCain-Feingold bills "ban" soft money.
Let's be clear — neither the Shays-Meehan nor McCain-Feingold bill abolishes soft money. They abolish soft money for political parties. Period. They leave untouched the ability of corporations, unions and hundreds of other interest groups most of which have very narrow goals and narrow definitions of what is politically right and wrong — to spend hundreds of millions of unregulated and unchecked dollars on, in essence, electioneering.
I support banning the use of all soft money to influence political decisions. But such a ban should affect every organization involved in political activity. Why should interest groups be allowed to continue to use soft money while political parties are denied that right? It hardly seems appropriate to deny political parties a role in campaigns while allowing corporate conglomerates such as Disney (which owns ABC) and Microsoft (parent to MSNBC) the opportunity to actively shape the political debate.
Truth be told, however, unions are the single biggest spenders of unregulated soft money, expenditures that will not be affected by either Shays-Meehan or McCain-Feingold. During the last several elections, unions sent enthusiastic young people to targeted congressional districts for a year or more to identify potential voters — perhaps with the goal of "registering them to vote" or as part of a "non-partisan" get-out-the-vote effort. Further, unions are permitted to send internal political communications to their membership. These internal political communications may take any form, and are frequently glossy, full-color brochures that expressly advocate the election or defeat of a particular federal candidate.
Leo Troy, professor of economics at Rutgers University, has been studying unions for more than two decades. He estimates that during the 1995-1996 election cycle alone, unions spent more than $300 million on voter education and get-out-the-vote efforts. This enormous sum of money comes directly out of union members dues which are also tax deductible to the union members making them the only dollars in the political process that are subsidized by the taxpayer. This hardly seems like leveling the playing field, as unions can and will continue to influence the political process.
In addition to the elimination of corporate and union expenditures of soft money, I support detailed disclosure of the sources and uses of all money spent to influence political decisions. I believe that well-informed voters will make well-informed choices, and voters have the ultimate power to assert their dissatisfaction with a political candidate and any entities that may have undue influence over that candidate's affairs. Furthermore, I will continue to stress the importance of fairness and equal applicability of disclosure laws to all groups. What is so special about the environmental groups or gun owners that they require differential treatment? All interest groups should be treated equally and required to make the same disclosures.
Clearly, groups engaging in many of the aforementioned activities don't simply cross the line, they hurdle over it in their efforts to electioneer and expressly influence the outcome of elections. Given that, I am simply baffled that many of my colleagues claim to be concerned about the undue influence of outside groups and yet — with these two "reform" bills — they give these very outside groups the power to determine elections and public perception of political candidates.
We must make campaign-finance reform about fairness, and putting all money spent to influence political activity under the same regulations is the only real way to achieve fairness. Also, we need to be honest about what the Shays-Meehan and McCain-Feingold bills would actually do. They would clearly regulate what Americans can say and when they can say it as they attempt to have their voice heard in the public square.
Neither Shays-Meehan nor McCain-Feingold abolishes soft money. Each abolishes soft money for political parties, which have, since the beginning of this republic, had the responsibility for outlining issues and selecting candidates to represent their ideas. At the same time, both bills will enhance the role of outside interest groups, whose goals are generally very narrowly focused on one issue.
I can understand the media's zeal for reducing the role of political parties. That would give the biases of the media — biases that increasingly find their way into news stories as well as editorial pages — a disproportionate degree of influence in the political process. However, I can't for the life of me understand why members who understand the political process would rather have the agenda shaped by the Sierra Club, the National Rifle Association and abortion groups on both sides of that issue.

Rep. John Linder, Georgia Republican, is former chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee and a current member of the Committee on House Administration.


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