The Incumbent Protection Act By Betsy Newmark

The Examiner reminds us that this week will mark the 60-day period in which the McCain-Feingold reform package has outlawed advertising by outside groups that mention a candidate for federal office.

Before 2006, American election campaigns traditionally began in earnest after Labor Day. Unless McCain-Feingold is repealed, Labor Day will henceforth mark the point in the campaign when congressional incumbents can sit back and cruise, free of those pesky negative TV and radio spots. It is the most effective incumbent protection act possible, short of abolishing the elections themselves.

How can this possibly be, you ask? McCain-Feingold — named after the law’s main advocates, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Russ Feingold, D-Wis. — bans all broadcast political advocacy advertising that mentions candidates by name, beginning 60 days before the election. President Bush signed and the U.S. Supreme Court shockingly upheld McCain-Feingold three years ago. Earlier this week, the Federal Election Commission, decided against allowing an exemption to the ban that would have allowed some highly restricted advocacy ads by groups like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the AFL-CIO.

It’s a good week to remember what this bill has wrought, especially as its two sponsors are now running for president in 2008. For this two-month period, it is now illegal for unions or the Chamber of Commerce or Sierra Club or NAACP to run ads mentioning elected officials running for office. That’s an amazing fact and shame on Congress for passing it, the President for signing it, and the Supreme Court for upholding it.

Of course, we’ll still be inundated with ads. The law favors incumbents who can raise more money than their challengers. But, now a lot of the money that might have flowed to such outside advocacy groups will instead go to shadowy 527s that are allowed to run all the ads they want. And they don’t have to follow the same requirements for reporting their donors as other interest groups do. The system is skewed now in favor of incumbents and millionaires who can afford to support their own 527s to target politicians they despise. A true victory for reform.

The Examiner is so right. We should scrap the whole shebang and substitute transparency laws that require donor lists to be reported immediately and placed on the web within 24 hours of receiving a donation. We’ve shown that you can’t get the money out of politics. Let’s just make sure that voters know where the money is coming from and let them decide. Better that then limiting which groups can run ads criticizing elected officials or candidates but leaving huge loopholes for shadowy groups. Our founders recognized that a free press and freedom of speech were the necessary guardians of liberty and shame on our government for limiting that speech.

This content was used with the permission of Betsy Newmark.

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