WASHINGTON -- Russ Darrow -- ``The Right Russ,'' his bumper stickers say -- is running in the Sept. 14 primary for the Republican nomination for the U.S. Senate seat held by Russ Feingold. Feingold is a saint in the church of campaign finance reform because of the McCain-Feingold legislation. It was enacted in 2002 to solve the supposed problem of ``too much money in politics.''
In 1965 Darrow founded the business -- Russ Darrow Group Inc. -- that now includes 22 new and used vehicle dealerships. It is operated today by Russ Darrow III. It runs broadcast, print and electronic (e-mail and other) advertising using the now valuable brand name ``Russ Darrow.''
McCain-Feingold's blackout provision says that 30 days prior to a primary, it is illegal for corporations -- a category that includes thousands of advocacy groups from Planned Parenthood to the National Rifle Association -- to finance any ``electioneering communication'' via radio or television that ``refers to'' a congressional candidate and is ``targeted to the relevant electorate.''
Because of that law, the company felt compelled to ask the Federal Election Commission whether it can continue to advertise when its founder is running for federal office. Common sense says the law was not intended to pertain to, and its language cannot be tortured to extend to, commercial advertising. But Common Cause thinks otherwise.
Clearly, car ads are not ``electioneering communications.'' Hence mentioning Darrow's name as a brand name in a communication with no relevance to any election cannot constitute making a reference to a political candidate.
Nevertheless, Jay Heck, director of the Wisconsin operations of Common Cause, the national advocacy organization for enlarged government regulation of political advocacy, says: ``Why should (Darrow) have an unfair advantage and be able to pay to have his name out there with corporate money, where his opponents have to use regulated, disclosed money?''
It is breathtaking. It is a measure of how many forms of speech have been made problematic by the campaign reformers' itch to extend government supervision of speech. The Darrow Group fears the threat of criminal penalties for an unlawful in-kind corporate contribution to a political campaign.
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