As I have traveled the country in connection with my campaign for President, I have been inspired by the commitment of countless Americans to shaping the future of America's political system. Their commitment takes many different forms, from distributing literature, to attending a campaign rally, to contributing money to an individual candidate. I applaud this involvement, even if it is not supportive of my candidacy. An informed and active citizenry is vital to the long-term health of our political system.
Washington's back-scratching political class apparently sees it differently. A few years ago, they locked arms around a measure sponsored by Senators John McCain, a Republican, and Russ Feingold, a Democrat, imposing unprecedented restrictions on the political activities of everyday Americans. Initiatives that had been legal for as long as anyone could remember were suddenly transformed into sanctionable offenses, all under the guise of "campaign finance reform."
I have not spent a career in politics, but I know enough about the laws of this country, and the way Washington works, to understand that the McCain-Feingold law is riddled with shortcomings.
Let's start with something basic: the American people should be free to advocate for their candidates and their positions without burdensome limitations. Indeed, such advocacy can play an important educational role in elections, helping to provide information to voters on a range of issues. Do we really want government telling us when we can engage in political speech, and what form it can take?
Yet McCain-Feingold prohibits some non-profits from broadcasting messages that mention the name of a federal candidate within 30 days of a primary or in the months leading up to the general election. This Free Speech Blackout Period – also called the "electioneering communications ban" – is contrary to the spirit of a free and open issues debate. It also has the perverse effect of silencing some non-profit groups while empowering special interest groups.
As syndicated columnist George Will has pointed out, McCain-Feingold "regulates the quantity, timing and content of political speech … making it increasingly acceptable for interest groups to attempt to advance their social agendas by limiting their adversaries' speech."
The original intent of McCain-Feingold was to reduce the role of money and special interests in our political system. But on this too it has been a failure. Political spending has been driven into secret corners and more power and influence has been handed to hidden special interests. What is really needed is greater transparency, and disclosure, of campaign contributions – not more restrictions on political speech.
Mitt Romney served as the Governor of Massachusetts from 2003-2007 and is a candidate for the Republican presidential nomination in 2008. His campaign website for campaign news and volunteer activities is http://www.mittromney.com/
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