I BELIEVE in the law of unintended consequences. In the case of campaign finance reform legislation we only know that today freedom is the big loser. Although it is too early to understand what those unintended consequences will be and whom they will affect, you can bet your last dollar that everyone involved – supporters and opponents – will be forced to deal with them in the coming years.
At 2:42 a.m. on Valentines Day 2002 the U. S. House of Representatives passed the Shays (R-CT)-Meehan (D-MA) Campaign Finance Reform legislation by a vote of 240-189. If this bill becomes law it is obvious that those 240 misguided Representatives didn’t care about the erosion of America’s Bill of Rights, nor did they worry about unintended consequences. They voted to willingly give the media the opportunity to be the most influential voice in election politics for the foreseeable future.
The editorials in the leading liberal media following the vote were jubilant in their praise for the "heroic" Representatives that fought valiantly to pass this legislation. Yet, the same liberal media failed to mention that it is a victory for those that voted for and against the bill -- incumbents. Incumbents now will be able to do and say anything in the final two months of a general election and everyone except the media and the challenger will be politically gagged. Congress has passed an "electioneering blackout" for everyone except itself.
Under the guise of banning "soft money," Congress has banned free speech. It is true that soft money fundraising has reached new heights. According to an editorial in the February 16, 2002 issue of The Economist "soft money - that is, money from companies, unions and advocacy groups - has been the fastest-growing part of the campaign system. In the 2000 election, the parties broke all known records by spending $500 million of soft money. And in 2001 they raised 50 percent more than in 1999, the previous non-election year."
Yet, there are some who are calling attention to the law’s ultimate consequences. In the Washington Post of February 15, 2002 David Broder, a bill supporter, writes an article titled "Now, the Unintended Consequences." He states, "the consequences of the bill…the House passed early Thursday morning are probably not what supporters have been led to believe." He suggests that this bill may prove disastrous to the Democrats in the 2004 Presidential election. His authority for this point of view is "Michael Malbin, the widely experienced head of the nonpartisan Campaign Finance Institute." Malbin’s theory is that Bush, who was able to successfully bypass matching federal funds when campaigning for the nomination in 2000, will again be able to raise large amounts from contributors, while the Democrats will be forced to get federal matching funds during their nomination process thereby putting them at a financial and political disadvantage.
Richard L. Berke has an article in Sunday’s New York Times titled "Don’t Discount the Fat Cats." His theme is simple – where there’s a will there’s a way. He mentions that former Congressman Tony Coelho, who was in charge of the Democratic Campaign Committee in the 1980s, "was pilloried by advocates for the overhaul of campaign finance for his creative — and wildly successful — strategy to open legal loopholes to benefit Democrats."
Susan Estrich, another Democratic strategist and campaign manager for Michael Dukakis in 1988, was very candid in an interview with syndicated radio commentator Sean Hannity last Thursday. She said that campaign consultants and political junkies like her will happily dissect the intricacies of the new rules to devise strategies to find the loopholes that create advantages.
Although the immediate consequence of a court challenge has been predicted, the results of that challenge may very well produce more unintended consequences. The plaintiffs should be a most interesting group. Already NRA’s Wayne LaPierre announced on Hannity’s radio show "the National Rifle Association is going to fund this suit all the way to the Supreme Court for all people's free speech in the United States."
While the media are already predicting that campaign finance reform will be signed into law, there is still hope. The American people can still take back their government from the media elite and incumbent politicians. Everyone should send a message—while we still can--to President George W. Bush telling him to veto the McCain-Feingold-Shays-Meehan legislation. If he does, that would be the unintended consequence of the year-- and the winners would be the American electorate and the Bill of Rights.