- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 27, 2002

The campaign finance reform bill that will reach President Bush's desk as early as this week is the most fraudulent legislation in Washington since Hillary Clinton promised she would give Americans heath insurance coverage they could never lose.

John McCain's creation is not about cleaning up elections or fighting political corruption. It is not about weeding big money special-interest influences out of politics. It is not about reducing the impact of Fortune 500 firms like Enron who use campaign contributions to buy corporate welfare favors from Congress.

This legislation is first and foremost a jobs protection bill. The jobs it will protect are those of the incumbent members of Congress. If there were even a thimble-full of genuine integrity on Capitol Hill, members of Congress would recuse themselves from this vote since they have the most to gain from it.

How so? The most insidious feature of this bill would prohibit issue-based organizations from running TV or radio advertisements that criticize or praise a candidate in the 60 before an election. This means, for example, that the National Rifle Association could not run an ad proclaiming: "Congressman John Smithereen is a buffoon because he voted four times for gun control legislation." Handgun Control Inc. could not, likewise, attack a congressman for his pro-gun votes.

What is more fundamental to the constitutional right of free speech than the right to freely criticize the policies of our own government, and by implication the politicians who enacted the laws we find offensive or wrongheaded?

Imagine this bill had existed during Colonial days. Patrick Henry would announce that King George was a big oaf for taxing the Colonies to great excess, and out would come the lawyers and the magistrates to muzzle Henry, on grounds that his critique had come within 60 days of an election.

Political scientists have calculated that incumbents start off every campaign with roughly a $500,000 advantage due to high name recognition and the assorted privileges and perks (such as free mailings) of holding office. Just about the only way to beat a sitting congressman or senator is to educate voters about what they stand for with rapid-fire shots at the incumbent's voting record and behavior in Washington. And this must be done not months, but days before the elections when normal Americans who don't live and breathe politics start paying some modicum of attention.

Sen. McCain, Arizona Republican, wishes to stifle competition against incumbents. For example, on nearly a half-dozen occasions, Mr. McCain has cited the Club for Growth (which I run) as a case study in the need for his campaign finance bill. On CNN recently, Wolf Blitzer asked Mr. McCain why he supports a 60-day advertising ban. "It's because of outfits like this so-called Club for Growth," he replied. "They came into Arizona last year and ran hundreds of thousands of dollars of negative attack ads. No one knew who they were. No one knew who their funders were."

What has Mr. McCain and his allies nervous is that issue groups like ours actually fund insurgent campaigns against incumbents in both parties.

If the McCain bill is enacted into law, the chances of ousting an incompetent incumbent will be drastically reduced. How can voters be expected to ever "vote the bums out," if they don't know the facts about how their bum voted?

Mr. McCain's campaign bill would lead to less competitive, not more competitive, elections. A recent study of the myriad of campaign laws at the state level by the Jerome Levy Institute discovered that limitations on campaign spending and advertising, lead to higher election rates for incumbents.

Is that what voters really want? Under the current laws, incumbents are virtually unbeatable unless they have committed a sex offense with a minor or they've been convicted of some other felony. The average incumbency re-election rate is between 96 percent and 98 percent. It's easier to get somebody out of prison than Congress. The system is becoming as farcical as the elections in China during Chairman Mao Tse-tung's reign. You get to vote for whomever you wish so long as it is the one and only person who appears on the ballot.

What we need to invigorate our election process, increase voter participation, and elect a more diverse and higher-quality Congress is establish real competition through term limits. That would force turnover, and create far more competitive elections. It would reduce corruption, because special interests wouldn't pour millions of dollars into campaigns if the winner were only going to be in power for six to eight years. Needless to say, there are no term limits in this McCain bill-despite the fact that roughly 2 out of 3 Americans support them.

Perhaps what is most grating of all is the cowardice among our elected officials when they vote for a bill that they know in their minds and hearts tramples the Bill of Rights. Many congressional members have even acknowledged publicly their suspicion that the McCain bill is unconstitutional.

Yet they still voted for it.

And these are the kinds of people we want to make it harder to de-elect?

Stephen Moore is president of the Club for Growth.

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