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Outside View: The Quizno Factor

Sunday, 17 February 2002 12:00 AM

Are members of Congress outraged? Apparently not but "excessive" campaign spending is the subject of much hand wringing on the Hill and in the nations dailies and network news studios.

In the days immediately after Super Sunday a number of members of Congress pressed the sponsors of the campaign finance bill the House has just passed to delay the application of its provisions until after the next election.

I do not blame them. They quite correctly understand the McCain-Feingold/Shays-Meehan bill would sharply reduce the amount of political discourse along with their ability to communicate with the electorate.

Why else would they seek a delay in application? The bill limits the freedom of political parties and other citizens and groups of citizens to express themselves on issues in the days just before election.

The other day in a committee hearing, one senator suggested McCain-Feingold did not go far enough. "It just covers soft money; we ought to control hard money too." he said.

We do senator, we do. I wonder how much more restrictive that senator would like to be in limiting the political communication of persons and organizations with the temerity to seek to unseat incumbents.

Make no mistake, the limitation of political money and discourse hurts no one more than it hurts challengers. This campaign finance bill is an exercise in self-aggrandizement on the part of the sitting members whether that is what they intend or not.

Moreover Enron is only an excuse used by the media and others to rekindle the "reform" flames. There is as yet no evidence of improper campaign payments by Enron.

Corporations have been barred from making political contributions for nearly a century even though unions to this day are permitted to pour literally millions of dollars into election efforts and will still legally do so if McCain-Feingold-Shays-Meehan is enacted. No evidence has been presented that any Enron political action committee, officer or employee has made improper contributions. Enron would have collapsed whether McCain-Feingold/Shays-Meehan was the law of the land or not.

This legislation presumes the citizenry is either too lazy or too stupid to pay attention to the sources of candidate money or issue support.

Perhaps even worse it promotes citizen lassitude and suggests a federal law is a substitute for "eternal vigilance."

It promotes placing responsibility for good government on the government rather than on the people.

This legislation gives the government control of the resources available to citizens who wish to challenge the government by the ballot box. The freedom to run for office is shallow if the assets necessary to further a cause are controlled and limited by the very entities being challenged.

With pressure groups, interest groups and candidates all limited by the government, only the media has an unfettered availability of the resources necessary for discourse in the days running up to election. Maybe this explains why the most vocal pressure for "reform" has come from them.

Too much money is not spent on elections. More dollars are spent selling potato chips, pizza, yogurt and, obviously, submarine sandwiches then political ideas.

In all probability too little money is spent on our most important enterprise: self-governance.

The playing field is never level and all the Congress' horses and all the Congress' men cannot make it so. How does one overcome Millicent Fenwick's famous pipe and her identification as Lacy Davenport in the Doonesbury cartoon strip? How does one overcome former Democratic Sen. Bill Bradley's years as a basketball star at Princeton and then with the New York Knicks? What "levels" that playing field if not spending proportionately more money or the assistance of organizations with similar views?

Why is there such fear of the free communication of ideas? If the sources of the funds are always identified (itself a limit on freedom of expression) why should voices be muted and ideas embargoed by government regulation?

This legislation is an unbridled assault on the First Amendment. Where are the patriots? Has only Congress the right of unfettered expression?

The president should not sign the bill as he indicated he might. He should veto it and take the case to the American people.

* David Norcorss is the former general counsel of the Republican National Committee and a practicing attorney in New Jersey and Washington.

Copyright 2002 by United Press International.

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Are members of Congress outraged? Apparently not but excessive campaign spending is the subject of much hand wringing on the Hill and in the nations dailies and network news studios. In the days immediately after Super Sunday a number of members of Congress pressed...
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Sunday, 17 February 2002 12:00 AM
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