Campaign cold feet and democratic hypocrisy

Posted: Mar 14, 2001 12:00 AM
Please forgive me for my amusement at the Democrats' recent predicament over campaign finance reform. It is a delectable development. Let me explain: It has come to light that a significant number of Democratic senators are beginning to have misgivings about the McCain-Feingold bill -- legislation that would ban soft money (unlimited, unregulated contributions to political parties as opposed to particular candidates) and impose other fundraising controls. Until the last presidential election there was unanimous Democratic support for this First Amendment-challenged scheme. That was before the 2000 election cycle, when campaign fundraising dynamics changed. Prior to the last election Republicans consistently raised more soft money than Democrats, but in 2000 they were almost dead even. Democrats are still lagging behind Republicans in the hard money category, however, which makes them nervous about the proposed soft money restrictions. So, what is a pragmatic party to do? The major media, which stand to gain the most from restricting campaign advertising -- because it would give them a virtual monopoly on political speech -- are experiencing no such reservations based on last year's fundraising results. They remain in lockstep in clamoring for "reform." As such, they are getting more than a little nervous at the Democrats' newfound cold feet on the issue. The major media's fearless leader, the New York Times, nervously admonished its favorite party (and renegade Republicans supporting the bill) "not to waver or push for amendments that would imperil the best chance in a generation to clean up American politics." Such self-serving sanctimony is a bit hard to stomach, but I digress. I don't really believe that Democrats will torpedo the bill, but the very possibility that some are rethinking their position on the measure is illustrative of the party's well-established hypocrisy. This is the party that: -- divides the races in the name of racial harmony; -- opposes school choice (favored by the majority of blacks) in the name of improving education for all; -- thwarts Social Security and Medicare reform in the name of protecting senior citizens; -- would impede incentives for medical research in the name of advancing the cause of health care; -- refuses to restrict its appetite for government spending while masquerading as a deficit hawk. But this should not surprise us. Democrats hold themselves out as champions of free speech, yet have steadfastly refused even to acknowledge that there is a constitutional issue with campaign finance reform legislation. They conveniently argue that campaign spending is not speech. Yet they are the first to tell us that flag burning and pornographic "art" are not just conduct, but constitutionally protected speech. If that conduct is speech, how much more so are campaign fundraising and spending? Aren't campaign fundraising and spending the essence of political speech? And isn't political speech the essence of the First Amendment's free speech guaranty? But I digress again. The point is Democratic hypocrisy. Once again, their high-minded advocacy will turn on a political calculation: How much will passage of the campaign finance bill threaten their empowerment, rather than their professed lofty principles of reducing corruption in our political system? Of course, we've known for some time that Democrats are not truly exercised about the political corruption associated with campaign fundraising, especially if it redounds to the benefit of their party. If they were, they would have joined Republicans in demanding that Janet Reno recommend the appointment of an independent counsel to investigate Bill Clinton and Al Gore's unconscionable acquisition of millions of dollars in illegal foreign campaign contributions. During the upcoming debates on the McCain-Feingold bill it would be most gratifying if some Republicans would challenge Democratic Congressmen on the campaign finance scandal. Of all the Clinton scandals this was probably the worst and may have caused the most damage to our nation. If foreign influence in our elective process isn't enough to shock the collective Democratic conscience, surely the wholesale compromise of our national security in exchange for foreign contributions should be. When this bill is being debated Republicans ought to demand answers from the moralistic Democrats who will be pontificating along with crusader John McCain about the evils of campaign funding. We have a right to know why, if they are so interested in eliminating corruption, they raised nary a finger of protest when General Reno ignored the advice of Charles La Bella, Louis Freeh and a number of other professionals to call for an independent counsel in this matter. It's time the pious party quit asking so many questions and began answering a few.