In his poem ?The Road Not Taken,? Robert Frost notes it?s often difficult to know what?s right and what?s wrong. But the opposite is also true -- sometimes it?s crystal clear. And more?s the pity when someone knows what?s right, and still takes the wrong path.
Consider campaign finance reform.
President Bush?s re-election campaign announced on Aug. 26 that it would go to court ?to shut down all the ads and activity by these shadowy 527 groups.? Those, of course, are the political advocacy groups named for a section of the tax code. But Bush himself is partly responsible for the influence of these groups.
They became important after passage of the McCain-Feingold campaign finance law, and have overwhelmingly supported Democratic candidates. As of Aug. 30, Democratic 527s had raked in $131 million, compared with $17 million for Republican 527s.
The group ?Swift Boat Veterans for Truth? that has been hammering John Kerry is a 527, as are moveon.org, Americans Coming Together and other groups that have created equally nasty ads about the president.
The president wants to rein in these groups. Yet Bush could have avoided all this trouble if he?d done the right thing.
Back in 2000, candidate George W. Bush opposed McCain-Feingold. He insisted then that he wanted to protect every individual?s right to take part in democracy. He said he?d do that by increasing the limit on how much people could give to candidates and national parties. Bush also insisted he wanted to maintain strong political parties. He made it clear that no reform should favor one party over another or favor incumbents over challengers.
So why, in March 2002, did he sign McCain-Feingold?
Even as he put pen to paper, Bush realized he was making a mistake. This bill ?goes farther than I originally proposed by preventing all individuals, not just unions and corporations, from making donations to political parties in connection with federal elections,? he told reporters. In other words, it limited the right of individuals to take part in the democratic process. And it certainly limited the power of the political parties.
That?s where 527 groups come in -- money that once went to the Republican or Democratic national parties was instead funneled to them. And, as a sad coincidence, these groups are more willing than the major parties would be to sponsor negative ads.