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Thursday, March 16, 2006

Who needs free speech?

Or campaign finance 101.

There are a couple of bills wending their way through the House that should have the attention of anyone who is involved in politics. The first is a bill is (supposedly) an ethics/lobbying reform bill but it also has 527s in it's sights. You remember the 527s of the 2004 campaign right? Groups like Move and the Swift Boat Vets. This bill would no longer allow 527s to collect unlimited funds from individual donors. Instead it would limit individual contributions to the 527s to $30,000 per year. The other bill is aimed at exempting political blogs and bloggers (such as yours truly) from the constraints of the McCain Feingold Bipartisan Campaign Finance "Reform" Act. Senator McCain, in an attempt to "clarify" his restriction on free speech, has decided that political blogs and bloggers "contribute" to campaigns by their writings and as such should be assigned a dollar value and therefore restricted.

In the case of the first bill, Democrats spoke out against the proposal.

"House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) "does not personally support additional restrictions on 527 contributions," a Pelosi spokeswoman said."

And no wonder....during the 2004 election, George Soros gave a whopping $24+million to Democratic oriented 527s. Insurance mogul Peter Lewis gave nearly $23 million to Democratic-oriented 527's. Meanwhile Republican oriented 527s like the Swift Boat Vets only recieved $17.01 million and their largest donor gave $200,000. The rest were primarily funded by small individual donations of $500 or less. (2004 campaign data via Open Secrets )

Meanwhile, the exempt media is pushing hard to restrict the contributions of blogs and bloggers. The NYTimes wrote an op-ed piece this week that made it clear that they consider the internet to be a " free-flowing big-money trough for uncontrolled political spending". I wonder what they consider these unregulated Democratic 527s to be then. If you dig a little further into the world of 527 donors you would find that the four individuals that contributed the most money to 527s all donated to Democratic oriented 527s. Their donations were a staggering $73.3 million dollars. Meanwhile, the top Republican donor (the number 5 individual donor) gave a "paltry" $8 million. The next two Republican donors come in at number 8 (Dawn Arnall of Ameriquest with $5 million) and 9 (T Boone Pickins of BP Capital with $4.6 million). The remainder of the top 10 were also contributors to Democratic oriented 527s and they donated a combined $14+ million. That means that 7 individuals donated a combined $87.3 million dollars to elect Democratic candidates for office. Yep - I would say that is pretty free flowing!

Personally, I like what Rep. Christopher Shays (R-Conn) said. He said that the 527 issue needs to be addressed on its own merit. The 527 fountain of unlimited funds needs to be shut down. The loophole that allowed them to be set up was a horrible loophole in a horrible bill. We may be stuck with the McCain Feingold debacle, but the people of America deserve to have the 527 loophole closed. Otherwise look for the level of debate sink even lower than it is today...and heaven knows it's low now.


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