April 06, 2004

McCain on McCain-Feingold and on the "Disgraceful" Act of 527s

In this wide-ranging interview with Senator John McCain, the following Q&A appears:

    Q: You mentioned concern about the tone of the campaign perhaps turning off that middle electorate in what is clearly a critically important election year. Does that mean that you're not seeing from McCain-Feingold what you had hoped to see?

    A: I think we've accomplished a huge amount. And here's why: No longer can a corporate executive or a union leader, a trial lawyer, be called on the phone by me or any other federal elected official and say, "I need a million dollars for the fund-raiser tomorrow night, and by the way, your bill is before my committee next week." That was what was happening.

    The other interesting aspect is I'm responsible for this ad, "I approve this ad." It's cut way down on these negative ads.

    And we've seen this dramatic expansion of individual donors. That's what we wanted. We wanted more donors.

    Howard Dean has got the Internet cranked. I just saw in the paper this morning that Kerry has gotten a huge amount off the Internet. That's wonderful. That's a commitment to a campaign.

    Now we get to the 527s (political action groups). The 527s are illegal. And the U.S. Supreme Court decision pointed out very accurately that any partisan political activity will be subject to campaign finance laws. They are not in violation of McCain-Feingold, they are in violation of the law that was passed in 1974, partisan political activities. We will win in court.

    Our problem is we have a Federal Election Commission which is so politicized and so partisan that they are a disgrace.

    The Supreme Court, four times in their decision, said that there was no law change, there was no court decision that opened the spigot of soft money. It was the Federal Election Commission which made decisions which allowed this huge spigot to be turned on. Actually it was the Dukakis campaign that made it, and the Republicans jumped on it.

    Which reminds me, the Democrats are incredibly stupid to be pushing for these 527s because for every billionaire George Soros, there's 20 billionaire conservative Republicans that if this thing ever got really cranked up they would beat the daylights out of Democrats. They can raise more money than Democrats when you have a soft money situation. So they are stupid by pursuing this because at the end of the day, if they did prevail they would lose.

    But the other point is, we are going to have to try to get a ruling from them, it may be a 3-3 tie which means they do nothing. We will have to go to court. I am confident we will win in court.

    The federal campaign election laws say any entity that engages in partisan political activity shall be subject to campaign finance restrictions. That is clear that these outfits are engaged in partisan political activity.

    But the Supreme Court also said that money is like water in politics and will always try to find a way.

    When I first ran for Congress in 1982 there was no such thing as soft money. It just wasn't there. We used to have to go to barbecues. We had to knock on doors. We had to do things that most Americans think politicians have to do. Then in 1988 the spigot was turned on.

    By the way, in Arizona we have a clean elections law where when you get enough signatures and you can be eligible for funding and it has been a success.

    Q: So if I want to set up a Citizens for a Fair Systems committee and I want to buy a lot of air time to criticize Sen. John McCain, to you that is just thinly disguised partisan activity and ought to be stopped?

    A: No. It shouldn't be stopped. You should have to raise your money the same way the candidates do. A lot of people believe we want it stopped. We don't want it stopped. If you want to set up an organization, just raise your money the same way that the candidates do.

    Q: So what you need to FEC to do is establish this?

    A: Just say, look you have to raise your money according to the existing campaign finance laws.

    Q: Couldn't any of these organizations at least make the case, look we're not partisan, we're just a free speech group?

    A: Then can make that case. If they are, there are many organizations, Common Cause, hundreds of others that really are non-partisan. They are the 501(c)3 (non-profits). Fine. The name of a 527 is engaging in partisan political activity. That identifies what they are.

    Q: Can you get this in time to affect this current election?

    A: Yes. There is a ruling due in May.

    Let me tell you what these 527s have done too, which is so disgraceful. They have now got the 501(c)3s all cranked up, like we are going to go after them. We're not. We are not. We have no problem with them.

Posted by Rick Hasen at April 6, 2004 07:15 AM