- The Washington Times - Friday, March 22, 2002

It is bad enough that the self-appointed political reformers finally succeeded in passing their First Amendment-eviscerating Shays-Meehan campaign-finance "reform" legislation. But it is downright inexcusable that President Bush, residing in a White House that is overflowing with political capital, cannot muster the courage to veto a bill he genuinely believes is unconstitutional. The president will be violating what he has personally conveyed are his convictions about the First Amendment when he signs into law, as he has said he will, the blatant attack on free speech that Shays-Meehan represents.

It isn't even a close call. Until recently, Mr. Bush had compiled a solid track record of defending First Amendment freedoms against those who want to silence Americans seeking to exercise them. Appearing on ABC News' "This Week" on Jan. 23, 2000, Mr. Bush was asked by columnist George Will if a president "has a duty to make an independent judgment of what is and is not constitutional, and veto bills that, in his judgment, he thinks are unconstitutional." Mr. Bush briefly, but emphatically, replied, "I do." Mr. Will then asked Mr. Bush if, on those grounds, he would veto the Shays-Meehan bill, which, contrary to Mr. Bush's views on constitutionally protected freedoms, would have banned soft-money contributions by individuals. Mr. Bush replied, "[Y]es, I would."

Mr. Will, noting that the U.S. Supreme Court had previously struck down the congressionally mandated limits on political expenditures but not those on contributions, then quoted Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, who has stated, "There is no constitutionally significant difference between campaign contributions and expenditures. Both forms of speech are central to the First Amendment." Asked if he agreed with Justice Thomas' position and if he would appoint like-minded justices to the Supreme Court, Mr. Bush replied, "Yeah, I agree with that."

On March 15, 2001 less than two months after Mr. Bush's inauguration and just before the Senate was to consider campaign-finance "reform" legislation sponsored by Sen. John McCain the president sent a letter to the Senate majority leader outlining the type of reform the White House would support. One important requirement was "paycheck protection." As Mr. Bush had earlier explained to Mr. Will, that would require that a union member be "able to make his or her expression known as to whether or not they want their money spent on a political campaign or an idea." But this was anathema to Democrats, who demanded that their party continue to have unfettered access to union treasuries as the price of their support for "reform." Thus, all 50 Senate Democrats voted against the proposal, which, by the way, also would have required corporations to get permission from shareholders before using certain funds for political expenditures. Another of Mr. Bush's reform principles required "protecting the rights of citizen groups to engage in issue advocacy." In fact, Shays-Meehan drastically curbs this fundamental right during the very period it matters most:60 days before a general election and 30 days before a primary.

By signing Shays-Meehan, Mr. Bush will violate an important campaign commitment and stomp all over his own stated constitutional principles. And he will be complicit in shredding the First Amendment. For shame, Mr. President, for shame… .


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