Court Strikes Most of New Campaign Finance Law

A special federal court may have saved freedom speech by a single vote.

Of course, the Supreme Court will review this and have the final say. I suppose they wanted this three-judge panel to look at the law first so that they would use its decision as a guide, if not precisely follow it.

I had thought it would be a slam-dunk that many aspects of this law were unconstitutional, particularly the restriction on interest groups airing certain issue ads. I’m relieved that the panel agreed with me, but remain frightened that it was only by a single vote. If the panel had OKed this law, perhaps the SCOTUS might have done likewise, (although I think the SCOTUS has enough free speech supporters on the left and the right so that they would have overruled it in any case.)

I’m amused at the idea of challenging higher hard money limits on Free Speech grounds. It’s seems backwards to claim that freedom of speech requires the government to limit the speech of certain people. It reminds me of the claim that Calif Prop 209, the California Civil Rights Initiative, was unconstitutional because civil rights laws prohibiting racial discrimination should be interpreted to require racial discrimination.

I’m a bit uncertain of what remains of this law. Higher hard money limits seem to have survived. Anything else?

Many conservatives criticized Bush for signing this law. Maybe he’s smarter than we are. What seems to have resulted is a needed increase in the hard money limit and not much other change.

Republicans, Democrats, and the ACLU, and the National Right to Life Association all in agreement. Heavy.

Um. I’m afraid I’m a bit confused. Is this a good thing or a bad thing, so far as keeping corporations from buying their way into office?

The unfortunate thing is that it is probably too late in the term to get the question to the Supremes in their next term. The US SupCt can’t get the case until after the next presidential election unless special procedures as in Bush v. Gore are put in place.

I fully expect the “for sale” sign to go up on the US Capital and on every state house in the country. This may be a way to stimulate the economy. Can I buy shares in my Congressman? Should I invest in TV stations?

Let me know when someone finds the actual text of the ruling. News sources notoriously fuck up the legal reasoning when reporting on judicial opinions.

Well, it seemed to me that the law would be a good one, but the OP+link apparently disliked it immensely. And since I’m having a hard time imagining why any individual would dislike the possiblity of reducing corruption in political offices, I am a bit confused.

Do you have a hard time imagining why an individual would dislike restrictions on his or her speech?

How is it preventing free speech? You’re the one that votes the candidates in. More (as I understand it), special interests (which I assume is what you’re referring to) can still donate money, if only to advertise voting in general, and not to one particular candidate.

I would rather lose the ability to donate monetarily to the candidate of my choice, if it means multi-million dollar corporations can’t donate to the candidate of their choice i.e. a shill who’ll do whatever they ask, if they want to get reelected.

Ultimately, you still hold the reins of power, by your vote. But since the few candidates we have to vote for all seem to be in the pockets of companies, it doesn’t really matter. This law would change that. Yeah, special interests can’t donate. Small price to pay for uncorrupted politicians.

Suggested reading:
“Biography of a Space Tyrant” by Piers Anthony. Anthony is a fruitcake, but I completely agree with his views on campaign finances- namely, that the only way to get elected is to sell your soul to businessmen, so you can spend more on advertisement than the other guy.

One person’s “speech” is another person’s “bribes”.


OK. So you are a member of the Straight Dope One Trick Pony Chowder and Marching Society (or, alternatively, the Straight Dope Clique). You and each member of your organization support Adam Smith for Representative. On the other hand, despite his other displays of brilliance, Cecil Adams supports Zebulon Pike for the same office. No problem, right? Your group has more votes than he has.

However, Cecil (in our hypothetical world), has $6 million of free cash to spend on advertising for Pike while you can barely raise $30 bucks to support Smith. Who gets to buy more airtime to sway the undecided masses? Of course, if you call on all the members of the SDOTPCaMS or the SDC to pool their money, you can raise around $3 million to offset some of Adams’s spending.

However, the new law (just struck down) prohibits you from pooling that money and buying ads, since (despite the fact that you clearly outnumber Mr. Adams), by banding together, you have become gasp! a special interst group.

Do you see how you (and the courts) just might come to look upon the law as a way to inhibit speech?

Here is the court’s opinion. Warning – .pdf file. Double warning – it’s a per curiam opinion, so it’s short on legal reasoning.

I’m with the ever-eloquent tomndebb on this one. And to add insult to injury, McCain-Feingold limits the most important kind of speech (political) by the most effective methods (television and radio, but not newspaper or direct mailing or internet) at the most important time (30 to 60 days before an election).

What tomndebb said. I will add one anecdote.

Let me harken back to ye olde days of Election 2000, and a somewhat forgotten episode therein.

As you may recall, Sir Richard of Lazio was opposing Lady Hillary of Clinton for ye olde Senate seat. A big issue during the campaign was the willingness of the candidates to sign on to campaign finance restrictions voluntarily – that is, for each campaign to agree to accept restrictions along the lines of McCain-Feingold. Lazio even went so far during one debate as to walk a copy of the written pledge over to Clinton and challenge her to sign it, right then and there.

Anyway, one of the provisions of this pledge was a ban on issue ads, and the candidates were expected to coerce (by whatever means they could manage) their idelological supporters to refrain from running issue ads that implied voters should choose one candidate over another.

The New York chapter of NARAL went ballistic. They basically told the Clinton campaign “fuck you – you’re a better candidate on abortion issues, and we’ll be damned if you’re going to tell us to not tell people to vote for you.”

And rightly so. That is probably the one and only time I’ve ever found myself in agreement with NARAL. That proposed restriction limited their ability to participate in the political process – the most crucial aspect of the first amendment. THAT is why so-called campaign finance reform restricts free speech. Why shouldn’t NARAL’s members be able to pool their money and spend it on persuading the voters that their cause is just and thus their favored candidates are worth supporting?

Basic principle of American democracy. One dollar, one vote, million dollars, million votes. This was clearly an attempt to restrict the First Amendment rights of money.

Ah. So the law wouldn’t prevent Cecil from giving 6 million as a “private gift?” That is slightly skewed, then, I must agree.

How about this, which I believe represents the current situation (correct me if I’m wrong). You have your happy little special interest party, and you donate your $3 million dollars to runner A. A tobacco company, on the other hand, donates $12 million to runner B, with the assurances that runner B will vote down any anti-tobacco legislation. You lose. Examples of this in action are the Sonny Bono copyright extension and pretty much anything Fritz Hollings has ever said.

My idea for campaign finance reform pools all “gifts” and uses them to run non-partisan pro-voting ads, as well as equal numbers of ads contributed by each party explaining their basic position on issues. Perhaps the amount of money donated can have an impact on what issues are presented. Regardless, there’ll be none of this “The opponent embezzels money, knocks over veterans and eats kittens. Jim Beam shakes hands with college students and hangs out in old folks’ homes. Paid for by friends of Jim Beam” crap. That’s virtually all the campaign process is today, two candidates demonizing each other, with little or no attention paid to the issues. That’s what I’d like to see change.

Actually, the current law would already prevent Cecil from giving a $6 million campaign donation to a candidate. That would be “hard money.” The hard money limit was raised somewhat by the new law, but it’s just two or three thousand IIRC.

However, neither the old law nor the new law would prevent Cecil from spending his own $6 million on his own campaign. So, both the current law and the new law give a big advantage to filthy rich candidates – hardly the intent of the reformers.

Huh? If they hear it next term, even as the last case of the year, we’d have an opinion no later than next June.

Maybe I’m missing something here, Minty, but unless there is some way to skip the Circuit Court I don’t see any way this case can be in front of the Supremes until the October 2004 term, too late for its restrictions to have any effect on the November 2004 election. Any thoughts?

The cite from the OP says

I find myself in agreement with december on this.