The Move to Reform 527s

Mary Katharine Ham
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Posted: Mar 27, 2006 1:40 PM

Tim at Townhall was on a conference call today with a bunch of representatives who want to regulate 527s-- Cantor, Price, Cole, Blackburn, McHenry.

Tim's take:

Representative Cole pointed out that he was not a fan of the McCain-Feingold legislation when it passed. But Cole thinks that now that it is the law of the land it should be applied to 527's as well as other politcal entities. He points out the fact that in the 527 business, Democrats have a tremendous advantage, which is why you will see very few Democrats supporting regulating 527's. Cole called this near certain political reality "hypocritical" on the part of the Democrats. And it is.


But I asked if we on the right were being hypocritical by opposing McCain-Feingold over 1st Amendment issues but now wanting to extend it to 527's. Wouldn't it be better, I asked, to support legislation that deregulates political speech like the Pence-Wynn 527 Reform Act?

Cole pointed out to me that he supports the Pence-Wynn bill, but that something needed to be done now. He, along with the other members on the call, say that their proposed 527 reform legislation is a "temporary fix" along what Tom Price called "the road to real accountability and real reform." Cole admits that this temporary fix is not as "idealogically pure" as Pence-Wynn.

While I understand that the current system tilts to the left, I wonder what we would lose if we implicitly give a nod and a wink to the anti-1st Amendment arguments that buttressed McCain-Feingold. If conservatives broaden the scope of that law what leg will we have to stand on when we come back around in a year or so (assuming Congress does) and try to make a real fix?

Now, my first, gut reaction is usually to favor less regulation over more. But particularly in this area, this seems like a cough syrup nastier than the cough. McCain-Feingold gave birth to 527s-- the surprisingly strong man-child of 2004 election clout. Why, oh why, do folks think regulating 527s won't create another outlet for all that money? I, for the record, don't have a problem with that money being spent, but that's ostensibly the issue these folks want to deal with, so they should think about whether it will actually accomplish that.

At this point there are, like, 5 lawyers who understand election law clearly. It is that complicated. Why, oh why, should we junk it up with yet another regulation?

The Club for Growth is key-voting it:

Club for Growth, with its 35,000 members, plans to score a “NO” vote as a pro-economic growth vote in its annual rating of Congress on any bill that contains restrictions on free speech that would force all 527 groups to become political action committees (PACs).

Rep. Mike Pence, on the other hand, has pushed the 527 Fairness Act, which would deregulate political speech instead of lumping on more rules:

PENCE: That is exactly right. The 527 Fairness Act is a bipartisan effort to level the playing field between 527s and political parties and third-party organizations. While some in Washington want to respond to the Summer of 527s by reining in 527s with greater government control and regulations, the 527 Fairness Act by Rep. Albert Wynn (D.-Md.) and myself takes the approach of reestablishing basic fairness by simply allowing political parties and third-party organizations to more effectively compete with the 527s in both the way that they raise and spend money.

You do not want to limit the free-speech rights of MoveOn.org or Swift Boat Veterans for Truth?

PENCE: There is nothing in the 527 Fairness Act that restricts the money raising or spending activities of 527s.

Meanwhile, Bradley Smith reports on a separate victory for free speech in the area of election law.