Is it the lemony-fresh scent of Randy "Duke" Cunningham's fall from grace? Or, the sparkle of fresh negative advertising popping up earlier than ever? Perhaps it's the squeaky-clean sound of fundraising records being broken? My, oh my, how things have changed since McCain-Feingold was enacted, eh?
Um, no. Politics is still politics five years later. And, the bill that was supposed to get the money, corruption, and negativity out of politics has succeeded in dealing a blow only to our access to free political speech and John McCain's popularity among conservatives, both of which have dropped dramatically.
Sadly for the politicians who put this brilliant cure-all elixir for politics into place, hurting the First Amendment and the senior senator from Arizona were not the stated goals of the legislation, as Ryan Sager notes this week in his N.Y. Sun column.
Last but not least — and here we get to the real nub of campaign-finance regulation — McCain-Feingold supporters promised that the bill would curb the scourge of "negative" and "dirty" advertising. "It is about slowing political advertising," Ms. Cantwell said during the debate. "Making sure the flow of negative ads by outside interest groups does not continue to permeate the airwaves."
Of course, curbing and "slowing" speech critical of politicians by "outside interest groups" (a.k.a. "citizens") is in no way a permissible goal under the First Amendment. But, ultimately, the politicians may have failed in this most nefarious goal. And it's not just the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth who showed the way around it.
While the Supreme Court has so far upheld the patently anti-Constitutional ban on advertising by citizens' groups 30 days before a primary and 60 days before a general election, the rise of Internet politics may eventually supercede this atrocity. Witness the anti-Hillary Clinton "1984" ad that caused such a stir on YouTube just last week. Such ads, cheaper than dirt (it costs money to distribute dirt, YouTube's free), will only be more important with every election cycle.
For this reason, look for Congress to start taking an interest in "unregulated" Internet speech any day now. Money has never been the issue. Cleansing our speech of impure thoughts about politicians is the real agenda.
Yep, not only was McCain-Feingold an assault on free political speech; it was a sure, snotty nose under the tent for the good "reformers" to reform all the other kinds of speech they found distasteful, as we saw with the assault on 527s (colluded in by a lot of people who should have known better. coughBushcough.).
The five-year anniversary is a time for BCRA-supporters to congratulate themselves on whatever perceived victories they can find and sound the call for more regulation! "We've made progress, but not enough," they say.
Think I'm wrong? Check out this typical press release from a pro-McCain-Feingold group in North Carolina:
Landmark McCain-Feingold Turns Five, More Reform Needed to Protect Integrity of Election System
This is the way it will go for all time until that law's done away with because that's the way it always goes with people who rely on government regulation to control markets that want to be free. It never works in the first place and, somehow, the solution is always more of the same. A few more laws, a few more regulations, a few more fines and fees and massive appropriations bills, and we'll have this free speech thing under control, with nary a nasty word for incumbent politicians forevermore.
Happy anniversary, McCain-Feingold!