- The Washington Times - Friday, February 15, 2002

Members of Congress would be the biggest winners in the more heavily regulated system of political fund raising and advocacy that the campaign finance bill passed by the House yesterday would create.
The media were another big beneficiary both in terms of revenue and in terms of influence.
The television industry was expected to reap as much as $300 million in ad revenues from rules changes in the bill, co-sponsored by Rep. Christopher Shays, Connecticut Republican, and Rep. Martin T. Meehan, Massachusetts Democrat. The ban on TV ads by political advocacy groups in the final two months of the campaign also would mean that liberal news broadcasters could have more influence on shaping the views of the electorate.
President Bush would be the single biggest financial beneficiary because the limit on individual contributions to a candidate for federal office would be raised from $1,000 to $2,000.
When Mr. Bush was running as a sitting governor for the Republican presidential nomination in the primaries, 61,000 contributors gave him the maximum $1,000 each. Under the higher limit, he easily could raise a minimum of $120 million from his old contributor base enough to forgo public funding in the general election in 2004, campaign strategists say.
"The numbers that Bush would be looking at are potentially enormous," said election lawyer Jan Baran.
However, congressional incumbents would be the biggest winners. Their re-election rate was nearly 97.7 percent in the 2000 elections. That likely will climb even higher if the campaign finance reform bill becomes law.
The increased campaign contribution limit is one reason. It will double what most lawmakers ordinarily take in from a contributor base built up over many years, a rich campaign resource that a typical challenger would not have.
In addition, the bill's ban on soft-money contributions of which two national parties took in about $250 million each also could mean much less money for the parties to aid challengers in campaigns against House and Senate incumbents.
"Politicians have created a false issue the influence of soft money to divert attention from the real purpose of the Shays-Meehan bill. This legislation has only one goal: protecting the jobs of Capitol Hill incumbents," said Steve Dasbach, executive director of the Libertarian Party.
Advocacy groups that seek to influence the outcome of an election in the final weeks of a campaign are the biggest losers and, by extension, the challengers they tend to support. The bill would prohibit unions, corporations and nonprofit organizations from running TV and radio ads in the final 60 days of a general election or the last 30 days of a primary campaign.
That prohibition had civil libertarians and conservative activists up in arms yesterday.
"If democracy means anything, it means the right to criticize people who stand for election. Shays-Meehan lets members of Congress decide if, when and how they may be criticized during an election campaign," said John Samples, director of the Cato Institute's Center for Representative Government.
Douglas Johnson, chief lobbyist for the National Right to Life Committee, said the ban on ads by groups like his meant that "we will be unable to communicate effectively with citizens about what their elected representatives are doing" in the final weeks of a campaign when voters are paying the most attention to the race.
Wealthy individuals and temporary independent committees also are winners. They will continue to be able to plow as much money as they wish into TV and radio ads at any time in an election period as long as they do not coordinate their ads with the candidates.
Many political strategists believe this is how much of the banned soft money will be spent in the future, thus evading the bill's stated goal of stopping the influence of big money in politics.
"There is going to have to be a shift of some money into independent political activity," Mr. Baran said.
Television and radio broadcasters, suffering from an ad revenue slump as a result of the weak economy, came out ahead. A provision added in the Senate by Robert G. Torricelli, New Jersey Democrat, to require lower ad rates was rejected in the House, letting broadcasters charge higher rates.
The movement of the bill's effective date until after this year's midterm election "means that all of the soft money this year will be spent largely for television time" because it will be prohibited later, Mr. Baran said.


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