- The Washington Times - Monday, March 4, 2002

Anyone who has read President Bush's past statements on the Shays-Meehan campaign finance bill can reach only one conclusion: He thinks the bill violates the Constitution's guarantee of freedom of speech and should be vetoed.
Of course, you wouldn't think that from some of the recent statements coming out of the White House, which have been much more ecumenical toward the bill that passed the House and was pending in the Senate.
But I'm getting a little ahead of myself. Let's review what Mr. Bush has said against this bill.
Mr. Bush was asked by columnist George Will on ABC's "This Week" on Jan. 23, 2000, if he would veto the Shays-Meehan reform bill that was also being championed by Sen. John McCain who was then Mr. Bush's chief rival in the Republican presidential primaries.
Will asked Mr. Bush if he believed that 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?"
"I do," Mr. Bush replied.
That being the case, Mr. Will asked, would Mr. Bush veto either the McCain-Feingold bill or the Shays-Meehan bill?
Mr. Bush said "Yes, I would. I think it does restrict free speech for individuals."
Then Mr. Will put a quote on the screen from Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas: "There is no constitutionally significant difference between campaign contributions and expenditures. Both forms of speech are central to the First Amendment."
Mr. Will asked Mr. Bush if he agreed with Justice Thomas' statement, explaining that it expresses the belief "there's something inherently hostile to the First Amendment to limit this form of participation in politics."
Mr. Bush replied, "Yeah, I agree with that … I'm concerned about laws that prohibit people from participating in the process," though he made clear he supports a ban on soft money.
Flash forward more than one year later, March 15, 2001. Mr. Bush is president. The McCain-Feingold bill is being hotly debated. And Mr. Bush is deeply disturbed about the bill, which among other things, restricts advocacy groups from running TV ads in the final weeks of a campaign.
He explains his concerns about this and other provisions in a letter to then-Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, in which he sets forth six principles that "represent my framework for assessing campaign finance reform legislation."
Among these principles:
Protect the rights of individuals to participate in democracy. The central idea in a free society "is first and foremost about the rights of individuals to express their views." Among these rights, he singles out "protecting the rights of citizen groups to engage in issue advocacy."
But this bill would restrict an advocacy group from broadcasting campaign ads that refer to a candidate by name in the last 60 days of a general election and 30 days of a primary. Mr. Bush has made it clear he thinks this is unconstitutional, and just about every legal scholar thinks so, too.
The bill must maintain strong political parties: Mr. Bush said he wants "to maintain strong political parties and not to weaken them."
But this bill would ban unregulated, soft money and surely weaken the two parties, which took in about $500 million in soft money in the 2000 election cycle to get out the vote and promote their candidates. Election lawyers say this money will now go to independent campaign committees that will become the new "mini-parties."
c Eliminate involuntary contributions: Mr. Bush said he "believes no one should be forced to support a candidate or cause against his or her will." He wants the bill "to require unions to obtain authorization from each dues-paying worker before spending those dues on activities unrelated to collective bargaining."
But there is no paycheck protection provision in the bill to do this. Unions would be free to spend hundreds of millions of dollars in union dues for any candidates they wish. Worse, unions would be free to take the money that they presently give to the Democratic campaign committees and spend it for in-kind campaign activities, thus circumventing the soft money ban.
All this suggests there is a lot of bad stuff in this bill Mr. Bush opposes and would veto. Just the provision to deny advocacy groups Americans who voluntarily band together to engage in free political speech the right to run campaign ads in the midst of an election is enough to warrant a veto.
Yet the White House has been sending conflicting signals about Mr. Bush's intentions. One day, press secretary Ari Fleischer says the president wants to sign a campaign reform bill. Another day he says Mr. Bush will wait and see what kind of bill he gets.
Some say Mr. Bush wants to sign the bill just "to get John McCain off his back." Others say that with a war on, a weak economy, and political control of Congress up for grabs in November, this isn't something he wants to wage his first veto fight over especially when polls show no one cares about this issue.
Americans fought and gave their lives to win and preserve the freedoms that are endangered by this bill. Mr. Bush has often pointed out that the war on terrorism is about protecting our freedoms. Let's hope that the president rereads what he said about this bill. If he does, he cannot possibly sign it in good conscience.

Donald Lambro, chief political correspondent for The Washington Times, is a nationally syndicated columnist.


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