- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 12, 2002

Anyone interested in the protection of free speech should pay close attention this week to the machinations in the U.S. House of Representatives. Today, the House once again will begin debating the Shays-Meehan campaign-finance "reform" bill, which might be more truthfully characterized as an incumbent-protection device. Evidently, a House re-election rate of 98 percent isn't high enough for this crowd. Now it seems determined to establish even more roadblocks for challengers.

The most notable feature of Shays-Meehan is a ban on soft-money contributions to national political party committees by corporations, labor unions and individuals. In addition to financing party-building activities, soft money has become a major source of funding for issue advertising. In the past decade, issue ads have emerged as an important means of communication between political parties and the electorate. During the 1999-2000 election cycle, soft money totaled just about $500 million, which was evenly divided between the two major parties.

The bill isn't enough to emasculate the parties, but Shays-Meehan silences certain interest groups by drastically limiting their ability to communicate their political views with their own issue ads precisely when those views matter most on the eve of an election. Moreover, while the bill also specifically prohibits corporations and labor unions from funding issue ads, it does nothing to prevent unions from commandeering the dues money of their members to finance full-time operatives working on the front lines as the vanguard of the Democratic Party.

Congressional "reformers" have seized upon the Enron debacle in an attempt to push this unconstitutional bill over the top. They are cheered on by liberal big-city newspapers, such as The Washington Post, the New York Times and the Los Angeles Times, and by the demonstrably liberal broadcast networks. Not coincidentally, the influence on politics of both newspapers and television networks would increase greatly at the expense of the neutered parties and non-labor interest groups.

It doesn't matter that all the available evidence shows that several Cabinet officials and other high-level members of the Bush administration summarily rejected numerous desperate entreaties for indirect financial support by officials of the now-bankrupt Enron Corp. despite the fact that the corporation contributed a whopping $3.6 million in soft money since 1990. Soft money did not corrupt politics and policy. It is not the problem. Nor is the information provided by issue ads.

Conversely, as the Clinton-Gore administration demonstrated repeatedly, politicians willing to peddle their power to the highest political bidder even if that bidder risks U.S. national security, as Loral Space and Communications Corp. did with its unauthorized transfer of ballistic-missile technology to communist China are the most corrupt factors in American politics. Too bad Shays-Meehan, in its misguided attack on the means of broadcasting indispensable political information, ignores the blight of political corruption.

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