- The Washington Times - Friday, May 9, 2003

Since a special three-judge federal panel last week issued its complex 1,638-page ruling addressing last year’s free-speech-nullifying McCain-Feingold campaign-finance bill, both opponents and proponents of the legislation have decided to petition the federal court to stay all or parts of its ruling. Republican Sen. John McCain, a sponsor of the bill, said yesterday he would ask the court to suspend its entire ruling, which addressed 22 separate constitutional questions. Earlier, the National Rifle Association (NRA), a staunch opponent of the bill, petitioned the court to stay the part of its decision that severely limited the ability of interest groups to run issue ads. Indeed, the ruling on that matter was so restrictive that it effectively precludes the NRA from running an ad urging Mr. McCain to support a bill banning lawsuits against manufacturers of guns used in crimes. Mr. McCain argued that it would be unfair for candidates and campaigns to be compelled to operate under three sets of rules between Nov. 6 (when the law took effect) and the 2004 election. The bill itself represented the first set; the ruling by the three-judge panel, unless it is stayed, would replace the McCain-Feingold legislation, or the second set. When the Supreme Court issues its definitive ruling, which likely will not occur until sometime next year, a third set of rules would then be in play.The Democratic Party, whose senators and representatives were most responsible for passing McCain-Feingold, have been hurt the most since it went into effect. And it would be hurt the most if a broad-based stay were issued. That’s because the three-judge panel overturned the McCain-Feingold provision that barred political parties from raising soft money — the large, unregulated contributions to political parties from corporations, labor unions and wealthy individuals. Democrats ostensibly favored the elimination of soft money. But it was their party that had become so disproportionately dependent upon that form of political currency. With the soft-money ban in place, Democratic Party committees demonstrated themselves to be uncompetetive with Republicans in raising regulated-and-limited hard dollars. First-quarter filings indicated Republicans had outraised Democrats in hard money by a more than 3-1 margin.Democratic presidential aspirants are especially worried, and rightly so. The eventual nominee, who almost certainly will be crowned by March, will, with equal certainty, emerge penniless from the primary process. He will have spent every dime of the estimated $43 million that the public-financing law will permit him to spend before the convention. Without soft money to tide the nominee over between March and the Democrats’ August convention, after which public-financing funds for the general election will be released, the airwaves would be monopolized by President Bush. Benefiting from McCain-Feingold’s doubling of the individual hard-money contribution limit to $2,000, Mr. Bush, who as Texas governor raised $100 million for the 2000 primaries and eschewed public financing, is universally projected to raise and spend at least $250 million before the September 2004 Republican convention. (As noted previously, we think that figure is low.) If Democrats get their wish, the recent ruling of the three-judge panel will not be stayed, and the soft-money door, which they publicly took such great pride in closing, will, to their great relief, be reopened — at least temporarily. Republicans, whose party committees narrowly outraised their Democratic counterparts in soft money during the 1999-2000 cycle ($250 million to $246 million), will, of course, hold their own in the soft-money sweepstakes. However, with the possibility that soft money could bridge the Democrats’ March-August gap, don’t be surprised if Mr. Bush’s hard-money tally eventually, and easily, exceeds the $400 million mark.

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