- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 27, 2001

As early as today, the Senate could vote on the bipartisan Hagel-Landrieu campaign-finance bill, which is the principal alternative to the rabidly anti-First Amendment McCain-Feingold campaign-finance legislation. The bill offered by Republican Sen. Chuck Hagel and Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu is not problem-free. Still, it is infinitely better than the legislation proposed by Republican Sen. John McCain and Democratic Sen. Russell Feingold. Choosing between them is not difficult.

In response to Democratic charges that unlimited soft-money contributions to political parties by individuals, unions and corporations have corrupted the political process, the Hagel-Landrieu bill would limit soft-money donations to $60,000 per year. McCain-Feingold would ban soft money completely, thus delivering a crippling blow to the ability of parties to conduct the very political activities for which they were organized.

Despite an absence of any evidence, Democrats are virtually unanimous in their belief that unlimited soft-money donations breed political corruption in America. As long as soft-money contributions are promptly disclosed, so that voters may judge for themselves to what extent "special interests" are influencing political parties, there is nothing wrong with unlimited soft-money contributions. Apparently, though, the Democratic Party feels corrupted by receiving soft-money contributions in the 1999-2000 election cycle of $6.3 million, $4.7 million and $2.4 million, respectively, from the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), the Service Employees International Union and the Communications Workers of America. To be sure, there is a whiff of corruption here. However, that stems from the fact that such contributions come from union treasuries, to which all union members, including the nearly 40 percent who vote for Republicans, are forced to pay their union dues. If Democrats really want to salve their consciences, let them forego the contributions from Republican unionists. In the meantime, by limiting annual soft-money donations to $60,000, Hagel-Landrieu will alleviate 98 percent of the Democrats' guilt over AFSCME's soft-money contributions.

Unlike the McCain-Feingold proposal, the Hagel-Landrieu bill would increase the hard-money contribution limits from individuals to candidates from $1,000 per election to $3,000. It would also raise limits on individual contributions to national party committees from $20,000 to $60,000. Since these limits have not been increased since they were established in 1974, their purchasing power has been eviscerated, as the cost of campaigning has increased much faster than the general rate of inflation. Raising these limits is long overdue.

The final important difference between Hagel-Landrieu and McCain-Feingold is that the former does not eliminate the free speech rights of unions and corporations to finance issue ads mentioning a candidate's name within 60 days of a general election. By no means is Hagel-Landrieu the solution to all perceived campaign-finance problems, but it is far preferable to the unconstitutional provisions of McCain-Feingold.

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