It is no secret that the political
election process has become an absurd spending spree in which a
candidate’s campaign is only as successful as the
multimillion-dollar interests backing it. Most Americans agree that
somewhere along the line, the democratic, egalitarian component of
our open democratic system has been lost. In an effort to separate
the political process from interest-group money, Congress passed
the McCain-Feingold Campaign Finance Reform Act of 2001, severely
limiting the amount of soft money, or money donated from
corporations and individuals that could be used toward campaigns.
The bill set a $2,000 cap on donations by individuals, and a $5,000
cap on donations by corporations and businesses, which may only donate through political action committees before they can donate. However, the bill
left open a loophole: “527s,” political groups
affiliated with specific causes, not candidates, were not
regulated. Thus, numerous 527 groups, including divisions of
MoveOn.org and the notorious Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, have
flooded the airwaves with ads.

Janna Hutz

The controversy around both liberal and conservative 527 groups
has led many — notably Republicans — to propose that
McCain-Feingold rules be extended to 527 groups. This limitation on
527 groups is misguided, not only because it has partisan political
motives, but also because it limits First Amendment rights.

Liberal 527 groups have been pivotal in evening the monetary
battlefield between John Kerry and President Bush. While the Kerry
campaign has bought mainly positive ad spots, MoveOn.org and other
liberal groups have slammed Bush on the war, the economy and health
care. Conservatives, however, have been slow to exploit the 527
weapon. Only recently have they responded; last month, Swift Boat
Veterans for Truth raised questions about Kerry’s Vietnam-era
actions. Nonetheless, liberal 527s still hold a significant funding
advantage over their conservative couterparts. Thus, when Bush
claims he is in favor of limiting 527s, there is an unambiguous
self-interest. Fundamentally, it is unjust and disingenuous to
advocate the expansion of McCain-Feingold to restrict 527 groups
simply because it creates a political advantage for one party.

Additionally, free speech rights are at stake. The bill has
already been held constitutional, and further extension of its
scope is not necessary. Because 527 groups advocate policy
positions, not a candidate, they essentially allow concerned
citizens to organize and influence national elections. The expanded
debate caused by 527s is worthwhile, as issue-oriented independent
527 advertisements are able to voice opinions considered too far
out of the mainstream for candidate groups. Despite what campaign
reform advocates argue, it is wrong to restrict 527s simply because
they are sharing opinions that may influence electoral
outcomes.

The McCain-Feingold bill has succeeded in many of its goals. A
sense of democracy has been restored to fund raising; while both
major presidential candidates have raised and unprecedented amount
of money, they have received an equally unprecedented number of
low-level individual contributions. The emergence of 527 groups
does not threaten many of the bill’s initial successes, and
the rush to expand the bill’s provisions must be
tempered.

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