- The Washington Times - Monday, March 29, 2004

The one constant throughout more than 1,000 years of common-law history has been the uncanny ability of clever legal minds to develop strategies to circumvent custom and the decrees of law courts. In many situations, the advent of statute law promulgated by legislative bodies has done little to block this trend. Surely, that has been the case over the past three decades as the flow of political money only escalated in the face of the Federal Election Campaign Act of 1971 and its Watergate-era amendments of 1974.

To nobody’s surprise, there has been an evolving torrent of novel circumventive activities since the McCain-Feingold campaign-finance law took effect after the 2002 elections. To those of us who find unacceptable a political system in which there is too little political speech, this is not an unwelcome development. Political expression is as indispensable as it is forever necessary and appropriate. However, one of the major flaws of campaign-finance law is its intention to erect walls limiting access to political funds needed to finance political expression. While these efforts are nearly always futile, they often achieve the unintended consequence of channeling to darker corners the flow of funds needed to finance political speech.

For example, before McCain-Feingold prohibited political parties from raising the large contributions of soft money, those big donations, which were used to fund voter-registration projects and issue ads, were publicly reported in a timely manner. Now, soft money has been flowing to non-party, ostensibly independent, issue-oriented, tax-exempt 527 political organizations. As Howard Dean discovered too late, the spotty, irregular disclosure rules for 527s prevented him from learning on a timely basis that a very aggressive 527-funded anti-Dean ad campaign that hurt him badly in Iowa was financed largely by former Sen. Robert Torricelli. Organizing numerous 527s whose cumulative fund-raising goals exceed $300 million, liberal interest groups have formed what literally amounts to a shadow Democratic Party to work on behalf of John Kerry.

Now, according to a recent article in The Hill, many of those same liberal Democrats are also engaged in generating millions of dollars in soft-money contributions from anonymous donors to self-described nonpartisan tax-exempt charity groups [501(c)(3) organizations]. These groups, the contributions to which are tax-deductible, are involved in massive Democratic-friendly voter-registration projects in crucial battleground states. They include the League of Conservation Voters and the charity arm of People for the American Way. By targeting the race, ethnicity and income status of voter-registrees (90 percent of blacks and probably 75 percent of low-income Hispanics voted for Al Gore in 2000), they expect to register at least 5 million likely Democratic voters in closely contested states, including Florida, New Mexico, Iowa, Oregon, Minnesota, Missouri, Wisconsin and Ohio.

Before McCain-Feingold, political parties disclosed in a timely manner the sources of the non-deductible soft-money contributions they used for party-building activities. Today, the names of the donors who contribute to 501(c)(3) groups to finance voter-registration will remain anonymous, while taxpayers subsidize their tax-deductible donations. This is reform?

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