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Campaign Finance Reform: An Assault on Free Speech

Senators John McCain (R-AZ) and Russell Feingold (D-WI) and the media have promoted their campaign finance “reform” bill (McCain-Feingold [S. 27] and Shays-Meehan [H.R. 2356]) as the solution to a “broken system” riddled with “too much money in politics.” They also say that big, powerful, moneyed interests have a pervasive, vested interest in government that is detrimental to the public good.

In 1997, House Minority Leader Richard Gephardt (D-MO) spoke candidly to Time magazine regarding McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform legislation. The Democrat admitted, “What we have is two important values in direct conflict: freedom of speech and our desire for healthy campaigns in a healthy democracy. You can’t have both.”

Unfortunately, Rep. Gephardt sided against freedom of speech. He voted for the House version of campaign finance reform legislation in 1999. Moreover, he proposed a constitutional amendment to permit campaign finance reform to abridge freedom of speech.

Conveniently, these statist legislators neglect to tell you that in a free society good people must associate or they perish, swallowed up because of the voracious appetite of a runaway government, no longer restrained by a watchdog press, but egged on by a lapdog media.

As Edmund Burke, the 19th century British statesman, wrote, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” Good men must associate or their voice will perish in the contemptible struggle and travesty of campaign finance reform.

In a perfect, non-existent world, perhaps, campaign finance reform would be beneficial, but in the real world of power politics, always moving in the direction of greater and greater government, it’s a maleficent proposition.

McCain-Feingold/Shays-Meehan campaign finance “reform” bills, which the House will be debating this week, will silence a multitude of voices; citizens who, speaking through their associations and organizations, will be muzzled by an unconstitutional act infringing on the First Amendment: “Congress shall make no law abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press, or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

Many groups and organizations will be adversely affected by this bill — among them Second Amendment groups, such as the National Rifle Association and Gun Owners of America, whose law-abiding members depend on the dissemination of information from these groups to remain abreast of developments in Washington, developments that impact directly on their constitutional rights and the direction of their lives. These organizations represent and speak for them on very important issues in which otherwise individual citizens would not be heard.

The NRA is opposed to the Shays-Meehan Bill (H.R. 2356), as it was to the McCain-Feingold legislation in the Senate last year, because it “would severely restrict our ability to provide timely information — including information on lawmakers’ positions on firearm-related issues — to our membership and tens of millions of other law-abiding gun owners.”

H.R. 2356 like S. 27 “seeks to severely restrict communication that ‘refers to’ a federal candidate if that communication takes place during a specified period [60 days] before a primary or general election. Make no mistake, S. 27 is an all-out assault on the First Amendment.”

The McCain-Feingold/Shays-Meehan legislation would not only create a media monopoly over political speech, the very same speech that the Founding Fathers wanted to protect in the First Amendment, but would also create incumbency protection for malfeasant legislators whose activities (or lack thereof) would not otherwise be known and therefore would prevent them from being sacked by their constituents.

On March 26, 2001, the Senate passed Sen. Paul Wellstone’s (D-MN) amendment to S. 27, which would outlaw many forms of political speech, including public discourse on the voting records of incumbents within sixty days of an election.

If there were any doubt, the Wellstone Amendment would turn this legislation into drastic and unencumbered incumbency-protection as Gun Owners of America has predicted. With good cause, GOA had argued that the Wellstone Amendment would also prohibit many organizations from running television ads that mention a candidate’s name sixty days prior to an election.

According to GOA, campaign finance reform “outlaws free speech two months before an election for everyone but the media and federal candidates. Not only would this create a ‘speech monopoly’ for the media and incumbents, it would serve as a true Incumbent Protection Plan.”

The John Birch Society knows about incumbency protection. In 1979, an ad hoc committee of the society was challenged by a group of liberal congressmen who did not want their voting records known to their constituents.

The society publishes the nonpartisan, educational TRIM (Tax Reform Immediately; bulletins that do not endorse candidates but do disseminate the record of the 435 U.S. representatives’ spending votes three times a year.

After a long battle with the liberal congressmen and the Federal Election Commission, which sided with the legislators, JBS and TRIM prevailed in court.

The McCain-Feingold/Shays-Meehan campaign finance “reform” bill may change that. Some months ago, Jim Toft, director of TRIM, was particularly concerned with the bill’s use of the phrase, “regardless of whether the communication expressly advocates ‘the election of a particular candidate.'”

Currently, federal election regulations only apply to an organization like TRIM if it is expressly advocating for or against a particular candidate for federal office.

The fear is that McCain-Feingold and the clause that reads, “regardless of whether the communication expressly advocates ‘the election of a particular candidate'” would lift the legal shield and allow federal regulators to begin policing all political speech, not just speech that directly applies to candidates running in federal elections.

It would be a dark day for America if the McCain-Feingold/Shays-Meehan legislation passes Congress this year and is signed into law by President George W. Bush, as he said last year he intended to do for politically expedient reasons.

Make no mistake about it: This piece of legislation would deny free speech to millions of Americans. Moreover, Americans should not be lulled into thinking it wouldn’t survive a Supreme Court challenge. The bill is already being framed so as to minimize and restrict damage in case of a Supreme Court challenge.

Thus, we can no longer rely on the pesky sections of the bill to cause the entire law to be struck down if the Supreme Court rules that a portion of it is unconstitutional.

No doubt in a possible bleak and dark future of collectivism, statism and authoritarianism, historians will find this legislation, if implemented, to be a salient and sad step taken toward that destination.

The entire Bill of Rights should be sacred, inalienable and inviolate, particularly the First and Second Amendments — guardians of all the others!

Written by Dr. Miguel Faria

Miguel A. Faria Jr., M.D., is editor-in-chief of the Medical Sentinel of the Association of American Physicians and Surgeons and author of Cuba in Revolution: Escape From a Lost Paradise (2002).

This article may be cited as: Faria MA. Campaign Finance Reform: An Assault on Free Speech., February 11, 2002. Available from:

Copyright ©2002 Miguel A. Faria, Jr., M.D.

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