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Unreal Reform By: Lowell Ponte
FrontPageMagazine.com | Wednesday, March 28, 2001


OF ALL THE POLITICIANS WHO FAVOR Campaign Finance Reform (CFR), the most "moderate" is little-known U.S. Senator Hawk Dollar (Independent, Oz) from "the Andorra of the Adirondacks," the city state of Oz on the border between Lefty New York and loony Vermont.

Because the national media have failed to cover Senator Dollar’s speeches or his bill to reform our politics, this columnist on Tuesday discussed with him why he believes McCain-Feingold and other CFR proposals have not gone far enough.

"McCain-Feingold is not a reform intended to give ordinary Americans a bigger voice," said the stately, silver-maned Dollar. "It is obviously designed to be the Incumbent Re-election Act of 2001. It retains and, you watch, will even increase ‘hard money’ amounts that may be contributed to incumbents – and you better believe that most special interests put their money on incumbents, not challengers. It raises to as much as $6,000 how much a candidate can squeeze from each contributor if he or she faces a wealthy challenger – the one real risk an incumbent faces that could overcome the advantages of being in office, having free postage, name recognition, and the like. It even requires television and radio stations to sell prime ad time to candidates at the lowest rate they charge their biggest and best customers during a 12 month period prior to elections."

"Of course, as a five term incumbent myself," Senator Dollar continued, "it’s tempting to go along with this phony self-serving charade and become another McCain Enabler. Little Biblical reference there, son. It reminds me of that old joke ‘round here that when I first arrived I thought the Seniority System was terrible. But the longer I stay in office, the more genuine merit I see in it."

Senator Dollar gave a cackling laugh, then paused to sip from a wholesome glass of goat milk before continuing. "Take a look at how McCain-Feingold keeps the ‘hard money’ to candidates flowing but chokes off the ‘soft money’ that can be given to political parties, the kind of money parties used to fund their candidates running against incumbents. It’s like a new form of nationwide gerrymandering, making it harder for parties to unseat those of us already in office."

Does McCain-Feingold violate First Amendment rights of free speech? "Of course it does," snorted Senator Dollar. "That’s why my distinguished South Carolina colleague Ernest Hollings on Monday proposed a constitutional amendment to allow Congress or the states to put limits on campaign spending. It was voted down 40 aye, 56 nay, as it has been before."

"But we all know that if McCain-Feingold becomes law, the courts will declare at least parts of it unconstitutional. That’s why there’s a big fight over ‘non-severability,’ whether to amend the law to say that if any part of it gets voided by the courts, then the whole law is null and void."

"Frankly, I think all bills should be required to have a ‘non-severability’ clause," the Senator from Oz continued. "A bill gets voted into law through compromise – you know, I’ll vote for your bill, but only if it has some safeguard or other provision I want written in. And then along comes a judge, waves his or her magic wand, declares my provision unconstitutional but leaves the rest of the law in force. But this makes judges into super-legislators or dictators. I would never have voted the bill into law if what I required was not included – so how come a judge can erase my part of a compromise law while leaving the rest in place? It’s simply undemocratic. And for my distinguished colleague John McCain to say in advance that he wants his provisions to remain in law, even though he admits that judges will almost certainly excise parts of it as unconstitutional – this is not the way democracy is supposed to be."

Exactly how does McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform violate free speech? "It does so in my opinion in several ways," said Senator Dollar. "I agree with the idea that money is speech. If you limit how many dollars a person can spend to support, directly or indirectly, the candidate of his or her choice, you are limiting how much freedom of speech that person has. As the U.S. Supreme Court in 1976 held in Buckley v. Valeo, ‘Being free to engage in unlimited political expression subject to a ceiling on expenditures is like being free to drive an automobile as far and as often as one desires on a single tank of gas.’"

"And this," Dollar continued, "is an opinion shared by many across the political spectrum, including Brooklyn Law School professor Joel Gora, general counsel to the New York Civil Liberties Union."

"But McCain-Feingold goes far beyond restricting how and how much citizens can donate to the candidates they prefer," said Dollar, his face reddening and anger rising. "They also want to control when during campaigns citizens are permitted to speak."

"If, God forbid, McCain-Feingold becomes law no corporations (except media owners) nor labor unions nor (thanks to a cynical amendment backed by liberal Senators Paul Wellstone and Hillary Clinton) non-profit groups such as the Sierra Club or National Rifle Association will be permitted to air ‘issue ads’ in the 30 days just before a primary election or 60 days before a general election. Even a kid urging a vote for his favorite candidate on his website might be subject to government fines. Imagine the 2004 Presidential election with Hillary as the Democratic standard bearer during the final two months before the vote making vicious sniping attacks against the National Rifle Association – but by law the NRA being prohibited from purchasing ads to rebut her."

But surely, I asked, why would Republican conservative Wild West Arizona Senator John McCain wish to stifle the NRA? "You probably know that McCain is behind a huge ‘soft money’ purchase of ads airing right now to intimidate wavering Senators into supporting his bill," said a tight-lipped Dollar. "One of the biggest funders of McCain’s ads – to the tune of $114,872 -- is Internet billionaire Andrew McKelvey, who runs Americans for Gun Safety, the new propaganda incarnation of the more truthfully named Handgun Control, Inc. Others behind McCain’s ‘Americans for Reform,’ creator of these ads in targeted states, include such Leftist advocacy groups as the Children’s Defense Fund, Consumer Federation of America, Friends of the Earth, the National Council of Churches, Ralph Nader’s Public Citizen, the Sierra Club, and the League of Women Voters. Do these McCain-Feingold supporters share a political agenda that includes taking away citizen guns and your other rights and liberties? You betcha."

"But I am glad," Senator Dollar continued, "for the disclosure laws that made it possible for the March 26 Washington Times to tell us who John McCain’s strange bedfellows are.

So does the Senator from Oz approve some aspects of campaign finance reform? "I think mandatory disclosure of all donation sources within 48 hours of their receipt would be a real reform – even though the press is still trying to figure out who all these folks Bill Clinton pardoned more than two months ago are. If we’re going to have the best government money can buy, we should at least be entitled to know who’s doing the buying."

"But I doubt that we can stop the money," said Dollar, his eyes widening with recollection. "Lowell, you knew the late Democratic Speaker Jesse Unruh back when you worked for an Assemblyman in the California legislature. Unruh coined the truism: ‘Money is the Mother’s Milk of politics.’ Unruh also used to say: ‘If you can’t drink their whiskey and @*$#! their women and then vote against what they want the next morning, you’re not a good politician!’"

"Maybe after McCain-Feingold makes incumbents feel their job is secure for life, they’ll spend less time raising money and become more honest. But I doubt it," snorted Dollar. "The only real reform will come when government stops poking its nose into everybody’s business – and when greedy politicians stop sending out extortion notes to companies reminding them that Committee Chairmen such as McCain regulate and tax their industry, notes demanding that they buy three dozen $1,000-a-plate tickets to his next campaign fundraising dinner."

"Some, like Hillary, forget completely that they are supposed to be servants of the voters. They get swept up by the egomania and megalomania that infects most incumbents here – a feeling that they should be as rich as the corporate executives testifying before their committees. Thank God that fever left me long ago -- the fever that makes most Senators hum ‘Hail to the Chief’ every morning as they look in the bathroom mirror. Democracy was supposed to mean that the people could vote out of office politicians who ceased to serve their interests, but the McCain-Feingold Incumbent Reelection Act will make that old-fashioned notion a thing of the past, like the Constitution itself."

So what is the Campaign Finance Reform bill Senator Hawk Dollar proposes? "I’m the only true moderate Independent in the U.S. Senate," he says grimly. "Like Cicero 2000 years before me, I recognize that criminals like Catiline defy the law and go unpunished because the Republic is dying. Freedom might not come back, because freedom requires that the people have honor and integrity. As the Republican Senate’s cave-in during Clinton’s Impeachment proved, too many of our politicians now put their careers ahead of both party and country. The noble ones like Congressman James Rogan are sacrificed, while evil is praised and rewarded."

"During the primaries some called John McCain a ‘Manchurian Candidate,’ programmed back in that Hanoi prison like an unwitting guided missile to return and explode the heart of our political system," said Dollar. "This once seemed absurd, but today look at the company McCain keeps and the Leftist interests he advances."

"I am not an eagle. I am a Hawk, a lesser bird of prey," said the Senator, sitting more erect. "But at least I want to preserve a fair democratic choice between Right and Left. Unlike McCain I did not call it a ‘poison pill’ when Senator Orrin Hatch of Utah proposed letting stockholders as well as union workers, as the Beck decision called for, decide whether a politician they dislike will be given the fruits of their labor or investment. Senator McCain virtually spat on even a mild amendment to require labor unions to tell its members how their dues were dispersed among politicians."

"But as I said, democracy and free speech are already dying," Dollar continued. "Voter turnout trends downward election after election. We often fail even to achieve a quorum of eligible voters, as your column has argued, and hence those elections should not even count. This is happening not only because citizens feel their votes make no difference – that politicians all lie -- but also because negative campaigning is designed to turn off voters. The Democrats, for example, want the public disgusted with both candidates – and nothing in this reform will open the door to Third Party choices, Right or Left. Democrats know that labor unions and DNC ‘contributions’ to groups like Jesse Jackson’s can bring out enough voters to win if the majority of potential voters are disgusted enough to stay home. Nothing in McCain-Feingold’s so-called ‘reform’ will remedy this. It will only make it worse by locking out voices that give people an alternative to the incumbent."

"So here’s what I propose," said Senator Dollar. "We should outlaw all ‘soft’ money. We should outlaw all ‘hard’ money. We should outlaw any media or public mention of the candidates whatsoever for a period of 120 days prior to any election. Because the establishment media has a clearly-demonstrated Leftist tilt, it shall be prohibited from mentioning the name of any candidate during this period. Internet filters will comb out candidate names before they reach voter computer screens."

"One reason," he continued, "is that names themselves can slant an election – as when now-Congresswoman Loretta Sanchez changed her Anglo-sounding married name back to her maiden name Sanchez to appeal to Hispanic voters. Or when Hillary ran for Senate in New York State by campaigning almost without mention of her married name Clinton."

"My bill," said the Senator, "would also prohibit the media from showing any photograph or videotape of any candidate. Voters might be deceived by the quality and type of his or her clothing or hair. And as psychologists will tell you, "beautiful" people are almost automatically assumed to be "better" people. (Nixon won his debates with Kennedy among those who only heard them on radio – but I would ban audio of candidates, too, lest a sensual or persuasive voice seduce.) In the spirit of political correctness, we cannot permit the sin of "lookism," to favor a pretty candidate over an appearance-impaired one. Likewise, we cannot permit any remarks by or about any candidate that might reflect on his or her intelligence, education, virtue, experience, or other superficial qualities."

So is Senator Dollar suggesting that we choose among unknown, unseen candidates, voting for pigs in a poke? "I’m merely offering a logical reductio ad absurdum of McCain-Feingold," he replies. "Senator McCain has said: ‘If I could think of a way constitutionally, I would ban negative (i.e., ‘critical’) ads.’ One person’s negativity is another’s truth. Congress already enacted law that the Federal Trade Commission’s rules requiring truthful statements in advertising do not apply to political ads. The state legislature in Indiana has been rushing to outlaw any political ad using anything a member actually says recorded from Webcasts of its sessions, lest some foolish remark become a challenger’s ‘negative’ ad. In England’s last national election, the ‘political speech police’ prohibited a Conservative ad because it depicted incumbent Laborite Prime Minister Tony Blair with eyes glowing like a demon’s. But where is truth and beauty, if not in the eyes of the beholder and the opponent?"

"As I see it," said Dollar, "Senator McCain would strangle freedom of speech in a way that favors incumbents and Leftists. My bill would also strangle freedom of speech and favor incumbents, but without tilting either Right or Left. And under my bill there is almost no campaign and therefore no campaign finance to buy politicians. (Today, calculates columnist George Will, our political campaigning for all federal, state, and local political offices combined only costs $3 billion, a mere 60 percent of what Americans spend each year on Halloween candy. Trick or treat.)"

"It’s too bad our incumbent rulers will not let us return to Madison’s Bill of Rights and simply have self-balancing freedoms of speech, press, and assembly," concluded Senator Hawk Dollar. "But if we must continue down the yellow brick road to controlled, rationed, and censored political speech, to a fantasy land of Doublespeak where Slavery is Freedom and Silence is Democracy, my bill from Oz at least makes straight in this desert a highway for McCain. No rights left (except to burn American flags until the smoke violates the Clean Air Act), but no Left turns. We’re not in America anymore."

Copyright © 2001 by FrontPageMagazine


Mr. Ponte co-hosts a national radio talk show Monday through Friday 6-8 PM Eastern Time (3-5 PM Pacific Time) on the Genesis Communications Network. Internet Audio worldwide is at GCNlive .com. The show's live call-in number is 1-800-259-9231. A professional speaker, he is a former Roving Editor for Reader's Digest.


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