- The Washington Times - Monday, January 10, 2000

How deliciously ironic. Republican presidential aspirant John McCain, the self-styled, high-minded campaign-finance "reformer," has had to spend the past week endlessly responding to journalistic challenges to his political integrity over letters he has written during the past three years to federal regulators on behalf of more than a dozen major contributors to his campaign.
Predictably, Mr. McCain's allies including his interlocutors from the media and the self-appointed guardians of good government, who jointly believe the root of all political evil lies in privately funded political speech that does not originate in the newsrooms of newspapers and television networks have been having a field day in their efforts to show that even a reformer such as Mr. McCain is hostage to the corrupt conspiracy between businessmen and politicians that they see at every turn in Washington. Unfortunately, there is no indication that the well-meaning Mr. McCain understands the real problem, which his ill-considered reform proposals will do nothing to resolve.
The problem isn't that businessmen, their businesses and other interest groups have engaged themselves in the political process by exercising their political speech rights in the form of campaign contributions. The problem is that Washington repeatedly demonstrates that it has an insatiable appetite to control and regulate virtually every aspect both big and small of America's supposedly free-enterprise system. On the big side, for example, is Microsoft Corp. For years,the rapidly growing firm, which now has the largest market capitalization in the nation, had a relatively small "governmental affairs" operation in Washington. How shortsighted that proved to be. Today the company is the object of a massive governmental assault in federal court. The certain lesson Microsoft has learned is that it will never again allow itself to be exposed to governmental predations without doing whatever it takes to obtain a seat at the table of influence. On the small side, consider last week's outrage. Before a measure of temporary sanity prevailed, the federal government demonstrated its unlimited grasp when the U.S. Department of Labor announced its intentions to regulate the home offices of the nation's 20 million telecommuters. Who wouldn't expect those businesses affected by such overbearing nonsense to seek to influence the political process? The First Amendment guarantees them that right.
It is in this environment that one must view Mr. McCain's dilemma. On Saturday, Mr. McCain, the chairman of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, released 1,500 pages of letters he has written to regulators since 1997. Most of them dealt with issues of concern to people and firms that had not given him any campaign contributions. In the overwhelming majority of those letters, he did not even recommend a specific course of action. Rather, exasperated over the decisional delay that often plagues arrogant federal agencies, he merely pleaded with the bureaucrats to, in his words, "please act, please act."
In corresponding with federal agencies from his perch on Capitol Hill, Mr. McCain is hardly alone. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) says it received nearly 8,000 letters from congressmen during the past three years, 215 of them from Mr. McCain a number that hardly seems disproportionate considering Mr. McCain's role as chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee, which exercises oversight power over the FCC.
Mr. McCain is naive to believe that his "reforms," which would ban soft-money contributions to political parties and drastically restrict the free-speech rights of independent organizations, would somehow radically reduce the influence of money on politics. As long as Washington in the form of the FCC, OSHA, hundreds of other agencies and Congress itself exercises the incomparable power that it now exercises over the lives and interests of Americans, those whose lives and interests are so greatly affected will find a way to influence the actions of those who exercise that power. If Mr. McCain wants to reduce that influence, he must first reduce the influence of OSHA, the FCC and Congress, where he has served for nearly two decades.

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