Record Fund-raising Despite McCain-Feingold's Promise to 'Clean Up Politics'

The DC Examiner has a great editorial this morning reminding everyone of the dramatic failure that McCain-Feingold has been. Not only has it failed to remove the "corrupting" influence of money in elections, it's needlessly promoted censorship:

Well, so much for “getting rid of the corrupting influence of money on politics” — the basic aim of the Bipartisan Campaign Finance Reform Act of 2002, aka as McCain-Feingold. That’s Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Wis., and Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., the presumptive front-runner for the 2008 GOP presidential nomination who raised “only” $12.5 million during the first three months of 2007. The Arizona senator trailed far behind former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, who raised $21 million and former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani who raised $15 million, $10 million of which came in March alone. Among Democrats, Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., raised $26 million, former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards raised $14 million and New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson raised $6 million. Sen.Barack Obama, D-Ill., has not released his figures but is estimated to have raised about $22 million. Collectively, more than $125 million has been raised by the 2008 presidential candidates in just three months, with more than nine months to go before the first primary.

Think back to the days before McCain-Feingold became law. The biggest target of the law’s backers was the estimated $500 million in soft money contributed to political parties by corporations, individuals, labor unions and others. Just last year, Fred Wertheimer and Trevor Potter, two of the most ardent McCain-Feingold supporters, charged that soft money “ultimately turned into a $500 million national scandal and disgrace.” Now it looks like the presidential primary contenders will equal or even surpass that once-scandalous threshold long before the start of the general election campaign. We know little or nothing about what was promised by the candidates in return for this unprecedented flood of cash.

There is a distinction to be made between “soft” and “hard” money in politics, but the common denominator is the cash, the corrupting influence that McCain-Feingold’s backers sought to eliminate. Ever since Bill and Hillary Clinton put a “For Rent” sign on the Lincoln bedroom in the White House and found creative new ways to channel foreign money into domestic politics, gathering and collecting from campaign donors has been raised — or lowered — to levels of sophistication and efficiency that would have amazed Boss Tweed. Despite McCain-Feingold, more money is flowing to candidates than ever before in American politics.

It's also worth mentioning that the way McCain-Feingold was written has allowed for so-called 527 groups to funnel even more money into politics (technically indirectly from candidates) without even answering to federal disclosure requirements. This is yet another reason McCain-Feingold has been a failure.

The truth is that money is inexorably connected with free speech, especially when it comes to political free speech. Trying to "channel" or "remove" money's influence is always going to be ineffective or if successful, tyrannical.

Matthew Sheffield
Matthew Sheffield
Matthew Sheffield, creator of NewsBusters and president of Dialog New Media, an internet marketing and design firm, left NewsBusters at the end of 2013