Clearly, the 2001 McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform law
hasn't fully lived up to its promise of weeding excess money from
political campaigns. In fact, "527" groups have thrived, providing
yet another means for money to flow into the political process.
Conservatives would argue that the most effective means to
regulate campaign financing is to remove McCain-Feingold
restrictions from federal law and force transparency on all money
used for campaign purposes.
The ultimate regulation - and power to punish politicians who
abuse the election process - is the American people's
constitutional right to vote against candidates they believe have
corrupted the process by misusing money in campaigns.
McCain-Feingold was passed by Congress and signed into law as
the "Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002." This law regulated
so-called "soft-money" issue advertisements and made other changes
to campaign finance law, but it has had unintended consequences.
Soft money is defined as funds spent by groups that are not
contributed directly to campaigns.
The goal of McCain-Feingold - to remove the appearance of
corruption from politics - was laudable, yet the solution seems to
have made the problem worse. The law shifted money from campaigns
controlled by the candidates to independent groups and
One of McCain-Feingold's offensive provisions bans soft-money,
nonpartisan issue ads by corporations and labor unions 60 days
prior to a general election, or 30 days prior to a primary
election. A complete ban on advertisements that may affect the
outcome of an election would seem to be a clear violation of
political speech. The consequence of the ban was the expansion and
increase of 527 organizations.
A 527 is a tax-exempt organization that is used to influence
elections. These groups are not regulated by the Federal Election
Commission, and they do not operate under contribution limits. They
have changed the nature of politics to the point that third parties
and unregulated independent groups have effectively taken over the
message and campaign strategies of many high-profile
Two famous examples of 527s are Moveon.org and Swift Boat
Veterans for Truth. Both groups produced negative ads that affected
the 2004 presidential contest. Some 527 groups played a significant
role in the 2006 congressional election cycle, as well.
The 527s have constitutional protection to express their views.
Yet, because of McCain-Feingold restrictions, they have effectively
used campaign-finance loopholes to hijack the campaigns of the
The First Amendment to the Constitution states, "Congress shall
make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting
the free exercise thereof, or abridging the freedom of speech." The
courts (which have likened money to speech) have allowed some
limitations on contributions to political campaigns and parties,
but even these limitations have limits.
Liberals would have you believe that we need to remove all
private money from politics by shifting to a system of publicly
financed campaigns. Your tax dollars would be used to fund hundreds
of candidates whom you both love and despise.
Each party would nominate a candidate, and each candidate would
get a specific sum of money to run a House, Senate or presidential
campaign. Better than this liberal big-government solution,
however, would be a free-market system wherein ideas win or
The McCain-Feingold campaign-finance law has failed to remove
money from politics, largely because candidates simply cannot
communicate their messages without it. The only practical and
effective way to limit money in campaigns is to force transparency
on all campaign activities and let the public use the power of the
vote to regulate the activities of candidates.
Darling is director of U.S. Senate relations
at The Heritage Foundation, a leading Washington-based public