- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 11, 2003

A hard line on soft money?

Monday’s column by Bradley Smith, vice chairman of the Federal Election Commission, attacking the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act (“Stifling in name of reform,” Commentary) greatly exaggerates the situation. He expressed alarm that FEC commissioners were called upon to respond to an advisory opinion request concerning a nonfederal candidate’s ad containing an endorsement by a federal Senate candidate.

To prevent soft money designed to influence federal elections from being routed through state parties or candidates, the new law requires ads that “promote, support, attack or oppose” a federal candidate to be paid for with hard money.

The record in the pending Supreme Court litigation amply demonstrates the propensity of federal candidates and party operatives to help raise and spend federally impermissible funds through ostensibly nonfederal accounts. If our elected officials are to be insulated from the quid pro quo situations certain to arise when huge donations are linked to their election efforts, such “end runs” must be restrained.

The fact that the FEC received a request for an interpretive ruling on a brand-new statutory construction is hardly remarkable. The advisory-opinion process has been very successful over the years at providing the regulated community with clarity regarding the law’s application. Like the Supreme Court’s few pronouncements defining “obscenity,” a few FEC interpretations can provide adequate guidance.

The suggestion that every nonfederal candidate will be fearful of civil or criminal prosecution under the new standard is fanciful, in my view. The “promote, support, attack or oppose” phrase on its face is understandable by anyone of reasonable intelligence. I note with irony that Mr. Smith did not support suggestions at the rule-making stage to provide some clarifying examples or exceptions.

Neither the FEC nor the Department of Justice is interested in draconian enforcement of this law. There certainly is no evidence of overzealous prosecution under the more amorphous “for the purpose of influencing a federal election” standard that has applied for years (and that otherwise would apply in the case at hand). So-called “knowing and willful” violations warranting criminal pursuit will be rare indeed.

The Supreme Court need not be frightened into a ruling that overturns a relatively modest effort by those who know the system best to have a more representative form of government.



Federal Election Commission


Free speech abroad

Comments in British papers and results in polls that state opinions with which Mark Steyn disagrees (“A Western Alliance No More?” Commentary, Monday) do not mean that our alliance is meaningless or valueless. It means that we Britons live in a free nation in which all have the opportunity to express diverse or even disagreeable opinions. This does not mean we are not allies — unless, for Mr. Steyn, an “ally” is an unquestioning vassal of the planet’s sole superpower.

Of course, Mr. Steyn is entitled and, in my opinion, correct to comment adversely on such views. But to call into question our alliance when our servicemen have given and are still giving their lives alongside your own troops in a common and noble cause is, at best, highly distasteful. At worst, it is gravely insulting to our armed forces, their families and, indeed, to all Britons.

An apology to both serving and fallen British servicemen and their families might be in order.


Tynemouth, England

Driving away from the oil crisis

To bolster Clifford May’s well-written Saturday Commentary column, “Danger of being oil junkies,” it probably is a good idea to have someone follow up with a testimonial about the hybrid cars he mentions.

They work fine. They avoid the near-term chicken-and-egg problem he mentions with respect to fuel sources, and they do not need to be plugged in. In my hybrid car, I have been to the supermarket, and I have been through the mountains of West Virginia. I would be happy to give Mr. May a ride in my gas/electric hybrid car.

The fastest way to get fuel-efficient cars into service is to buy them. If Mr. May’s circumstances permit, I hope he will consider one of several hybrid car models that are available already.

The purchase of a hybrid car has a number of effects, not the least of which is a wonderful sense of striking back against a very backward — you might say crude — authoritarian kingdom.

If we make the Toyota Prius, Honda Civic Hybrid and others commercial successes, the auto companies will make more of them and other models. There already is clear evidence that this is beginning to happen.

Successful hybrid vehicles can pave the way for other types of alternative vehicles by telling innovators just how willing Americans are to take a risk on new technology.

When Americans were faced with a king’s harsh taxes on tea, we threw the tea into Boston Harbor. While we cannot throw oil into Boston Harbor, we can do the next best thing.



Loss in Laos

The coverage of recent protests by Laotian Americans (Embassy Row, World, Oct. 29) did not mention a number of important aspects of the demonstrations and omitted discussion of an important rally on Capitol Hill against visiting U.S. Ambassador Douglas Hartwick.

First, recent demonstrations in Washington by Laotian Americans sought to commemorate the fourth anniversary of the Lao communist regime’s brutal crackdown against Lao pro-democracy student protesters in October 1999. Moreover, the article did not mention that two dozen Lao organizations participated in the demonstrations to support jailed Lao students and denounceMr.Hartwick’s shameful appeasement of the Pathet Lao regime. These groups included the Lao Students Movement for Democracy, the Lao Veterans of America and others.

Second, it is important to stress that these national protests also sought to urge the Bush administration to recall Mr. Hartwick from Laos because of his pathological track record of seeking to cover up the brutal campaign of mass starvation being inflicted upon the Hmong people and minority Christian groups in Laos.

While the relatives of Laotian Americans are starving and being massacred by the Lao regime, Mr. Hartwick shamelessly engages himself in fashion shows, museum promotions and cultural programs with communist officials in Vientiane at U.S. taxpayers’ expense. Mr. Hartwick’s arrogant “let them eat cake” approach to this human catastrophe is an outrage to a growing number of Laotian Americans and members of Congress.

Mr. Hartwick is insistent on obtaining normal trade relations for the Stalinist regime at the most inappropriate of times — when it is engaged in a full-blown, Bosnia-style ethnic-cleansing offensive directed against some 13,000 Hmong civilians and Laotian rebels trapped in closed military zones in Laos.

Finally, it is important to note that the day that Laotian demonstrators rallied in front of Congress, Rep. Devin Nunes, California Republican, and Rep. Mark Green, Wisconsin Republican, both reportedly walked out of a Capitol Hill meeting with Mr. Hartwick in protest of the ambassador’s refusal to answer questions regarding a recent report by Amnesty International that details the Lao regime’s use of starvation as a weapon of war against the Hmong people.


Executive director

Center for Public Policy Analysis


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