- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 26, 2002

The free-speech-quashing Shays-Meehan campaign-finance "reform" bill is making its way to the Senate, where Majority Leader Tom Daschle expects to thwart a filibuster and offer the House-passed bill in verbatim format for an up-or-down vote, thereby bypassing the traditional House-Senate conference committee. A few observations are in order. Republican Sen. John McCain was understandably jubilant over the catalyzing effect that Enron's bankruptcy provided for the "reform" process. Never mind that neither Mr. McCain nor his Democratic allies could point to any quid pro quo arrangement between the company and the Bush administration.

Then, ever so inconveniently for Mr. McCain, Global Crossing went belly up, too. As it happens, the Center for Responsive Politics (CRP), a campaign-finance watchdog group, fingered Mr. McCain as "the Senate's top recipient of Global Crossing contributions." CRP added that in March 1999, just as Mr. McCain was gearing up his pursuit of the presidency in a campaign that would embrace a "reform" agenda, the Keating Five alumnus used his position as chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee to petition the Federal Communications Commission "to encourage development of Global Crossing's [U.S.-Japan] fiber-optic lines and to block the proposed AT&T/MCI/Sprint consortium," which sought a license for its competing fiber-optic lines. Also in March 1999, CRP recently reported, a group of Global Crossing executives including co-chairman Gary Winnick, who sold Global Crossing stock he owned for nearly $750 million before the firm went bankrupt contributed $30,000 to Mr. McCain's presidential campaign.

Meanwhile, within days of the House's passage of Shays-Meehan, which would forbid the contribution of soft money to national political party committees, the Hill, a weekly newspaper that covers Congress, published a page-one story titled, "House Dems make plans to circumvent campaign reform." In a strategy to redirect the flow of soon-to-be-outlawed soft-money contributions, the Hill reported that House Minority Leader Dick Gephardt has assured colleagues that he would raise voter-registration and get-out-the-vote money for the NAACP and other left-wing groups intimately associated with the Democratic Party. "We can go to all the people that we know," explained Rep. Alcee Hastings. "There's no limit on nonprofit organizations." If you think Shays-Meehan will put an end to "Gucci Gulch" the name given to the hallway outside the House Ways and Means Committee room where well-heeled business lobbyists ply their trade think again. In fact, welcome to "Birkenstock Boulevard." Press reports have revealed that "reform" lobbyists, including heavyweights from self-styled "citizens lobbies" like Democracy 21 and Common Cause, literally wrote key portions of the bill, something for which they routinely attack other special interests. Before it was removed at the last minute, one highly controversial, Democratic-favoring plank written by the Common Cause gang would have permitted parties this year to use relatively abundant soft money to retire much-harder-to-raise hard-money debts incurred before the 2002 election.

One clear victor from enactment of Shays-Meehan would be the New York Times, one of the bill's most vociferous supporters, whose front page routinely serves as the daily assignment sheet for the far-less-enterprising news divisions of the broadcast networks. Oblivious to the irony, the Times, commenting on a court decision issue last week to nullify the FCC's cross-ownership rule, editorialized: "It is important to the health of a democracy that a few powerful economic interests do not monopolize information outlets." Precisely. As the campaign-finance "reform" end game unfolds, it is becoming increasingly evident that President Bush may be the only obstacle standing in the way of this pernicious, anti-constitutional legislation.

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