Tags: Power | Transferred | Under | Campaign | Finance | Reform

Power Transferred Under Campaign Finance Reform

Thursday, 28 February 2002 12:00 AM

To see just where the power shifts under a certain onerous provision of this law, take a look inside one congressional district where a daily newspaper is already practicing such a reform. Here's the newspaper's policy:

"… once campaigning begins, to prevent abuse by orchestrated letter-writing campaigns, [this newspaper] has a policy against running letters endorsing or attacking declared candidates."

The newspaper goes on to say that during these same time periods – that is, during the actual campaigns – the paper will continue to cover elected officials "in order to keep readers informed about their activities."

So, who's happy in this case?

The incumbent is quite happy because the paper's policy means coverage of his or her activities. So someone running for re-election might be tempted to schedule a few events down in the district and have the old PR staff send out releases to the media inviting reporters to bring their notepads and cameras.

Heck, why not go all the way? Schedule events at schools, day care centers, hospitals, nursing homes and military institutions. If you can add some type of announcement as a hook, do it. Chances are you'll get several of these events covered.

The editors and reporters are happy about this because the power is now in their hands. They decide which events to cover, how much ink to devote to the event, and placement. They decide whether the story makes the front page in a banner headline, or whether it goes in the metro section.

The challenger is not quite so happy. Since he lacks the power and prestige of already having been elected to office, his activities may or may not be covered. (Remember, that's all up to the editor.) What the challenger does is usually just a political event, but what the incumbent does is news!

And what about the people in the district? Naturally, they're not happy because their forum in the newspaper – the letters column – has been cut off. Politically-oriented people who see an orchestrated letter-writing campaign as a legitimate part of the process are simply out of luck. The incumbent is in the paper; the challenger may or may not be in; and the people are out. It's that simple.

And that's the way it is with the new soon-to-be campaign reform law. One provision of that legislation would prevent certain types of political broadcast advertising in the 60 days prior to an election. That provision is supposedly to rein in those dastardly Special Interest Groups that like to run attack ads on some issue.

You know, like abortion. Say that Congressman John Doe has been representing the city of Springfield for some time – but he's pro-abortion. Let's say he even supports partial-birth abortion.

And let's say that the Springfield Right-To-Life Committee would like to oust Congressman Doe. So they approach their local TV station with an ad about how awful abortion is. The ad urges the voters of Springfield to support candidates that are pro-life.

Under campaign finance reform, the Springfield Right-To-Life Committee could be classified as a "special interest group" and therefore be denied the right to purchase the commercials during the campaign.

But under the law, Congressman Doe can use his newly expanded campaign chest to buy all the speech he wants. Plus the local media will cover him everywhere he goes.

Where does the power go under McCain-Feingold-Shays-Meehan? To the incumbent and to the press.

There is a fly in the ointment, though. The 60-day provision is clearly unconstitutional. Some members of Congress who actually oppose the bill may take political cover by voting for it, figuring that the Supreme Court will overturn it anyway.

The president of the United State should take no such tack. He is sworn to protect the Constitution, and if the Congress sends an unconstitutional bill to his desk, he should veto it and send it back.

Lynn Woolley's e-mail address is

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To see just where the power shifts under a certain onerous provision of this law, take a look inside one congressional district where a daily newspaper is already practicing such a reform. Here's the newspaper's policy: … once campaigning begins, to prevent abuse by...
Power,Transferred,Under,Campaign,Finance,Reform
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2002-00-28
Thursday, 28 February 2002 12:00 AM
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