"I Didn't Realize What All Was in It"

The New York Times has a hilarious story describing how members of Congress are only now discovering, to their dismay, the requirements of the "campaign finance reform" law they voted for last year. "We sometimes leave our audiences in a state of complete shock," says a lawyer who teaches the intricacies of McCain-Feingold to Democratic legislators. The seminars elicit "a sort of slack-jawed amazement at how far this thing reached." A lawyer who runs similar sessions for Republicans says, "There's an initial stage where the reaction is, 'This can't be true.' And then there's the actual anger stage."

A few other snapshots from the story:

The new chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, Representative Robert T. Matsui of California, who voted for McCain-Feingold, says he has been surprised by its fine print.

"I didn't realize what all was in it," Mr. Matsui said. "We have cautioned members: `You have to really understand this law. And if you have any ambiguity, err on the side of caution.' "

***

It turns out that the law also includes a provision requiring that federal candidates appear full-faced for the last four seconds of their campaigns' television advertisements and personally attest that they stand behind the advertisements' content.

Several consultants said this could prove to be quite a problem politically when the time comes to begin televising the kind of hard-hitting negative advertisements that have become standard campaign fare. As a rule, those ads at present tend to reduce the role of the candidate to a small line at the bottom of a screen.

"I think it was a total surprise to people who don't read C.Q. with a yellow pen," said Bill Knapp, a Democratic media consultant, referring to Congressional Quarterly, which keeps close tabs on legislative maneuverings here.

***

Members of both parties have been startled to learn the law's penalties. A violation of McCain-Feingold — be it a national party official's soft-money raising, or a senator's acting as a host at a fund-raiser on behalf of a governor — is a felony carrying a prison sentence of as much as five years.

McCain-Feingold may be an unconstitutional monstrosity, but maybe it will lead members of Congress to reconsider their habit of voting for legislation they haven't read. In any case, it's richly satisfying to see legislators worry that they might be tossed in jail for a seemingly trivial mistake such as speaking at the wrong event or letting your name appear on an invitation. This is the kind of fear and uncertainty their convoluted laws routinely impose on ordinary Americans.

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  • Warren||

    "...but maybe it will lead members of Congress to reconsider their habit of voting for legislation they haven't read."
    That's quite a grand vission you got there, way to dream big.

  • ||

    They've already be seduced by the dark side. They can never go back.

  • ||

    Forget the parts about money and fund-raising. I love the requirement that candidates appear full-faced on negative ads to say they stand behind the attack. If you're going to engage in mudslinging, at least have the courage (and conviction) to show your dirty hands.

  • md||

    This is a candidate for "Life Imitates the Onion." I hate the law, but this situation really cracks me up. Serves them right for abdicating their responsibility to the Constitution.

  • ||

    Absolutely right Sammy, that by far is the greatest requirement of the act. Unfortunately I can see how it could be declared unconstitutional by the courts.

    Let the lawsuits begin.

    Of course the greatest irony is that those filing the lawsuits will be the ones who voted for the law. Of course is it irony or is it poetic?

    Regards

  • ||

    This article fills me with uncontrolable glee. I think *I* would have voted for the bill just to see this response from my fellow congressmen. The felony conviction part is my favorite.

  • Lefty||

    Much ado about nothing. This little quote says it all.

    "Several consultants predicted that the provision would result simply in the creation of "independent" committees that will pick up the scythe and produce negative ads themselves."

    What it means is that any candidate who wants to run must go, hat in hand, and beg to be endorsed by the Taxpayer's Union or the Citizens for Good Government. If you're an encumbent, of course, they just jump on your bandwagon. Those groups operate anonymously and have no regulations about who they are or where they get their money.

    The only campaign finance regulation needed is full disclosure of who contributes. Period.

  • dude||

    While is it offensive that they pass bills without reading them, it's even worse that they pass bills that they know to be unconstitutional. They figure it makes them look good and the courts will fix the mess eventually. I imagine that's what's going to happen here.

  • dude||

    While is it offensive that they pass bills without reading them, it's even worse that they pass bills that they know to be unconstitutional. They figure it makes them look good and the courts will fix the mess eventually. I imagine that's what's going to happen here.

  • LM||

    I wonder if any of them *can* read. I mean, is fluent command of the english language really required for a job where all you do is dress up in nice suits and say "aye" or "nay"?

    *says aye and nay really loud to the annoyance of others in the computer lab*

    heck, even I can do that, sign me up!

  • ||

    In reality, appearing in and putting their names on attack ads could turn out to be for their own good. In 2000 the dem candidate for state treasurer ran a series of negative ads about the rep incumbent ("Judy Baar Topinka") in which they repeated her name ("Judy Baar Topinka") several times, but only quickly mentioned the dem candidate (?) once. This created a situation in which people went to the voting booth, saw several names which they did not recognize and one ("Judy Baar Topinka") which they did. Guess who won?

    Even if I had never heard of her again, I guarantee you that to this day I would still remember the name "Judy Baar Topinka".

  • ||

    Actually, only two campaign finance rules are needed.

    I - Only individual citizens are allowed to contribute or receive - no foreign nationals, PACs, or corporations - but such an individual can give or receive any amount.

    II - The money can only be spent after the donor's name and amount have been made publicly available for a week. This information must be kept publicly available from the time of donation until the candidate's copyrights would run out - death plus 70 years now, I think. (Library of Congress could maintain an archive - I use this duration to punish Congress for stupidly extending copyright to an unreasonable period.)

  • Ric||

    The NRA looks better and better for having the guts to be first in line to challenge this idiotic legislation.

  • ||

    I, for one, find it wonderfully ironic that legislators are now feeling the pain of their own ridiculous legislation which it had been their job as legislators to scrutinize. In other words, if they had been doing their jobs all along, they wouldn't be in the fix that they're in right now. The only thing that would make this better is if the whole McCain-Feingold thing turned out to be some sort of elaborate hoax or prank.

  • ||

    Dammit! I'm pretty much in agreement with Lefty. I think full disclosure is the only thing needed to clean up campaign finance. It would be much more clear to whom the candidate was beholden.

  • Don K||

    Further on Jim N's point -- in Michigan, although Supreme Court Justices appear on a non-partisan ballot, they are nominated by party conventions. In 2000, labor unions, trial lawyers, et al, spent gobs of money attacking the Republican candidates for Supreme Court by name, while never (to the best of my knowledge) mentioning the names of the Democratic candidates. Result: the Libertarian candidates (Libertarians were an official party that year and had the right to nominate Supreme Court candidates) received something like 10-15% of the vote, probably because a fair number of people only knew they were supposed to vote against the Reps. The Dems all lost by reasonably close margins, and probably were left with the conclusion that they should have spent at least some money building their own name recognition.

  • Aaron||

    This makes me think of the Congresswomen who was brain damaged in an accident. It was something like conversational responses were slowed by as much as 15 seconsd, and she had difficulty reading and writing even the most basic documents.

    When asked why she refused to step down, she responded that despite her injuries, she still had all the skills neccessary to serve.

  • Don K||

    Further on Jim N's point -- in Michigan, although Supreme Court Justices appear on a non-partisan ballot, they are nominated by party conventions. In 2000, labor unions, trial lawyers, et al, spent gobs of money attacking the Republican candidates for Supreme Court by name, while never (to the best of my knowledge) mentioning the names of the Democratic candidates. Result: the Libertarian candidates (Libertarians were an official party that year and had the right to nominate Supreme Court candidates) received something like 10-15% of the vote, probably because a fair number of people only knew they were supposed to vote against the Reps. The Dems all lost by reasonably close margins, and probably were left with the conclusion that they should have spent at least some money building their own name recognition.

  • Don K||

    Further on Jim N's point -- in Michigan, although Supreme Court Justices appear on a non-partisan ballot, they are nominated by party conventions. In 2000, labor unions, trial lawyers, et al, spent gobs of money attacking the Republican candidates for Supreme Court by name, while never (to the best of my knowledge) mentioning the names of the Democratic candidates. Result: the Libertarian candidates (Libertarians were an official party that year and had the right to nominate Supreme Court candidates) received something like 10-15% of the vote, probably because a fair number of people only knew they were supposed to vote against the Reps. The Dems all lost by reasonably close margins, and probably were left with the conclusion that they should have spent at least some money building their own name recognition.

  • Jeff Fecke||

    It's patently unconstitutional, and it will be struck down sooner than later.

    But it will be worth it for this:

    "Ted Pendergast loves kitties, puppies, and butterflies. But Phil Berditzman hates puppies, and he has been known to kick kittens. Call Phil Berditzman. Tell him we don't like kittens to be kicked."

    "Um...yeah. I'm Ted Pendergast. I stand behind this commercial. No, really, I do."

    Worth shredding the constitution? No. But entertaining nonetheless.

  • Don K||

    Further on Jim N's point -- in Michigan, although Supreme Court Justices appear on a non-partisan ballot, they are nominated by party conventions. In 2000, labor unions, trial lawyers, et al, spent gobs of money attacking the Republican candidates for Supreme Court by name, while never (to the best of my knowledge) mentioning the names of the Democratic candidates. Result: the Libertarian candidates (Libertarians were an official party that year and had the right to nominate Supreme Court candidates) received something like 10-15% of the vote, probably because a fair number of people only knew they were supposed to vote against the Reps. The Dems all lost by reasonably close margins, and probably were left with the conclusion that they should have spent at least some money building their own name recognition.

  • ||

    I found this paragraph the most scary and/or funny:

    "Those are among the issues that will surely be litigated in the months to come. Given the confusion in the meantime, party officials are urging members of Congress to consult their lawyers about every political invitation."

    They passed a law whose parameters and punishments are so uncertain they won't know if they broke the law until a court tells them they have!

    Macain-Feingold is only the most recent example in the breakdown of responsible legislation. They don't even try to pass "laws" anymore. Instead, they lay out rough guidelines of general principles and leave it to the bureaucracies and courts to provide the details. Citizens can never know if they have "broken" the "law" until after the fact.

    It's about time legislators have to live under the same legal Sword of Damocles they forged for the rest of us

  • Ken Fitzpatrick||

    *snicker*

    I love it... our elected things have been hoist on their own petard.

    *giggling uncontrollably*

  • Jim||

    Just because we have a law doesn't mean violations are going to get investigated anytime soon.

    I presume the Federal Election Commission will be responsible for conducting those investigations and they are already several YEARS behind now. Can you imagine what the delays will be when every federal elected official is a potential violator?

    Don't look for any help from the FBI or USSS. I can guarantee the Justice and Treasury departments are going to avoid this issue like a bad habit!!!

  • Don K||

    Further on Jim N's point -- in Michigan, although Supreme Court Justices appear on a non-partisan ballot, they are nominated by party conventions. In 2000, labor unions, trial lawyers, et al, spent gobs of money attacking the Republican candidates for Supreme Court by name, while never (to the best of my knowledge) mentioning the names of the Democratic candidates. Result: the Libertarian candidates (Libertarians were an official party that year and had the right to nominate Supreme Court candidates) received something like 10-15% of the vote, probably because a fair number of people only knew they were supposed to vote against the Reps. The Dems all lost by reasonably close margins, and probably were left with the conclusion that they should have spent at least some money building their own name recognition.

  • ||

    I can't believe all of you are falling for this crap!! McCain-Feingold was a national issue for at least 2 years and probably longer. A national Presidential political campaign stumped the country on this bill for 6 or 9 months with tremendous media support. The idea that they didn't know what was in McCain-Feingold is BS!

  • Gerald||

    I think all the rest of the Republicans in the party ought to not worry about such inconsequential matters like McCain-Feingold and instead focus on the war with Iraq. We've got to stay on-message, otherwise we'll lose focus and our leadership will be damaged. We don't need to worry about McCain-Feingold, Tongass and ANWR, Estrada... it's all about Iraq, so keep focused, people! Besides, McCain-Feingold will seriously hinder the Democratic party, and there's nothing wrong with that.

  • Adrianne||

    Don! you've been posting the same thing for nearly an hour! relax: it went through!

  • ||

    The idea of "slack jawed" lawmakers in "a state of complete shock" over the mess they made gives me no end of pleasure.
    Imagine, having to hire someone to explain the law to them. Sounds rather like what I go through every year at tax time.

  • ||

    Lefty - What he said. I remember George Will pounding this as unconstitutional and McCain threatening disruption and mayhem if Bush vetoed it. Them flying chickens are roosting now. Ha=ha.

  • ||

    Nelson Muntz says it best.

  • Hilary||

    What a breakthrough! Now finally I can imprison myself!

  • Don K||

    Further on Jim N's point -- in Michigan, although Supreme Court Justices appear on a non-partisan ballot, they are nominated by party conventions. In 2000, labor unions, trial lawyers, et al, spent gobs of money attacking the Republican candidates for Supreme Court by name, while never (to the best of my knowledge) mentioning the names of the Democratic candidates. Result: the Libertarian candidates (Libertarians were an official party that year and had the right to nominate Supreme Court candidates) received something like 10-15% of the vote, probably because a fair number of people only knew they were supposed to vote against the Reps. The Dems all lost by reasonably close margins, and probably were left with the conclusion that they should have spent at least some money building their own name recognition.

  • ||

    The thought of "slack jawed" lawmakers in "a state of complete shock" gives me no end of pleasure.
    Imagine, having to hire someone to exlpain the whole mess. It sounds rather like me every year at tax time.

  • Paul Dow||

    Now if we can only get Congress members to prepare their own taxes too. No accountants. No computer programs. This will be the only way they can see the monster 15,000 pages of special interest legislation they created.

    Imagine if they would actually see more of the consequences of the laws and regulations they create.

  • The Annoyed Man||

    O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!'
    He chortled in his joy.

  • ||

    After some thought, I guess it should come as a surprise to no one that our fine legislators in Washington DC really have no clue about the details of the legislation that they are passing. Come to think of it, most of them really have no clue about anything else, either.

  • ||

    Further on Jim N's point -- in Michigan, although Supreme Court Justices appear on a non-partisan ballot........ and, um......oh yeah this has been covered - my bad :-)

  • ||

    I think in addition to having the candidate explicitly stand behind the message of each ad, they should force admakers to spend a few seconds at the end of each ad divulging the money trail of the ad-making organization. (for example, display the top 5 "ultimate" sources of income for the agency/campaign: Microsoft, Teamsters, Dewey Cheetham & Howe, etc. "Ultimate" meaning "intermediate companies that don't actually do anything except move money under a patriotic-sounding name don't count.") it's not instantly clear how to set up such a regulation in a foolproof way, but it sounds possible [e.g. off the top of my head: you're not an "ultimate donor" organization unless you get more than X% of your revenues from selling a good or service.] Forcing full disclosure of donors is a good idea, but this IMO stands a better chance of directly informing viewers about who's really behind the ads.

  • ||

    I love the requirement to show the candidate's face at the end of an ad. I totally agree that maybe it will make them think twice before they authorize a personal attack based on half-truths and innuendo.

  • ||

    McCain-Feingold should be amended so that it only applies to those who hold federal elective office. Essentially it would be the opposite of most laws which affect the entire land with the exception of Congress. We could call the legislation the "Come-Uppance Amendments." In the tradition of today's Congress, none of the Members would read the bill, then they would vote for it because it sounds good. People - 1, Congress - 1,000,000,000...

  • ||

    "...but maybe it will lead members of Congress to reconsider their habit of voting for legislation they haven't read."
    Congress should make a law that forbids congressmen to vote on any legislation unless they actually passed a test proving they have read the proposed law. A test like students pass in scools.
    This will not make laws better but it surely will make them fewer.

  • ||

    Legislators should always have to submit, in addition to their vote enacting legislation, an essay written by them, in which they explain the constitutionality of the bill as they understand it, giving reasons and citations of relevant passages from the constitution and the bill in question.

    If the "essay question test" forced legislative output to slow to only 10% of the previous session, would that be a bad thing?

    Would the USAPATRIOT Act, or McCain-Feingold, or even the Controlled Substances Act have been able to pass under such conditions?

  • Tuning Spork||

    TrueLibertarian, you said it!! In fact, there is a caviat in the Shays-Meehan version that is eerily reminiscent of a clause of the Controlled Substances Act.

    I quote only from memory so this isn't the actual text, but, believe you me, this is what it says:

    Controlled Substances Act: Since interstate commerce and intrastate commerce can't be distinguished in the case of illegal narcotics, the Federal Govt asserts, for the neccesity of law enforcement, to treat all cases equally.
    (Meaning, of course, that the Federal Govt assums for itself a power not granted to it by the Commerce clause in the name of law enforcement.)

    Shays-Meehan (and probably McCain-Feingold [I haven't read the final bill either]): The absence of proof that a campaign advertisement violates the consultation clause---(that an ad can't claim to be independantly produced if any discussion of the content of the ad took place between the candidate and the sponsor of the ad [don't get me started on the speech and assembly aspects here])---in no way undermines the case that a violation has occurred.
    Actually, come to think of it, I think it read "No proof of consultation is required to assert that a violation has occurred."
    meaning, no due process, no requirement of the state to make a case--the mere possibility or suspicion that a law has been broken is cause for conviction.

    Sorry, I'd have provided the exact text of both documents if I wasn't so fuckin' stoned right now.

  • Boss Tweed||

    C'mon people! Don't fall for this stuff. Everybody knew full well that this was unconstitutional and full of the type of restrictions listed above.
    The pols are just pretending to be "shocked,shocked" so they can appear to be 'victims'. "Ooh, look at me! I'm a slack-jawed pol who is getting my just desserts."
    They hope the voters will say, "Ha! Serves ya right!" thus giving the public a chance to gloat and diffuse their anger.

  • ||

    Wouldn't it be ironic if a suit brought by a legislator who voted for this nasty piece of legislation was tossed out with the comment, "You voted for it, you should have read it, now live with it."

  • DDX||

    Truelibertarian,
    they have that law in England, as part of their Eurocratization enabling legislation. The Home Secretary or Attorney General (can't remember which) has to rise in the House and state that he/she believes the proposed legislation is in compliance with the European Human Rights Code.

  • Maureen||

    For the love of Mike, all these idiots had to do was read FreeRepublic, Lucianne.com or NRO online!!! ALL of them were talking about some little old lady treasurer of the local party could spend five years in the clink because she didn't dot her t's and cross her i's! How come all these LAYMEN could figure out this was idiotic and the lawyers in congress couldn't?

  • Keith||

    Well, with the PACs and other money-canals finding their spigots running dry, they can spend their last few stacks of baksheesh calling out the opponents who fail (in response to the comment that DOJ won't touch this one).

    Could the 4 second personal endorsement be used for WWF-style trash talking?
    "I'm Jesse "The Body" Ventura, and I stand behind this ad. And furthermore, when I meet my opponent at the King-of-the-Ring debate at the Horsespit County League of Women's Voters this weekend, I'm going to introduce him to MY Political Action Committee"

    That would be worth the price of admission right there... heh, the local government cable access channel could run pay-per-view.

  • Tuning Spork||

    Maureen, because us laymen are actually concerned sovereign individuals. The lawyers in Washington are willing to exterminate left-handed dog-owning pasta-eating square-assed metal polishers if they thought it would get them re-elected.

  • ||

    Y'all are railing about corporate contributions, but you are ignoring the contributions made by trial lawyers and unions. Those two entities make, I believe, the largest contributions (certainly to the dummy-crats). I'd like to see them all NASCAR'd up, too.

  • ||

    Are there any federal judges with the guts (or sense of humor) to say "McCain-Feingold is an unconstitutional restriction on the free speech of challengers, but, as the Congress has the power to impose rules on itself which restrict its members' freedom beyond the ordinary limits of constitutionality, and since the restrictions on speech in McCain-Feingold are patently and facially unconstitutional, this law must be interpreted as a Rule of Congress, applying only to current members of Congress."?

  • ||

    "McCain-Feingold may be an unconstitutional monstrosity, but maybe it will lead members of Congress to reconsider their habit of voting for legislation they haven't read."


    Naaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah...

  • ||

    The problem with restricting contributions to those actually residing in the district an election is to be held for is that it reduces the impact of grassroots organizations that have a membership that extends over a wide area. The NRA is one such, and is considered to be the main reason for McCain-Feingold in the first place. I am sure any of you can think of other such organizations, on either side of the political spectrum.
    Aside from the fundamental problem that M-F violates the reason for freedom of speech and press, public political debate, it limits some persons (private individuals, such as you and me) more than others (incumbents and the media). Whatever happened to equal treatment under the law?

  • ||

    Lefty, did I hear echoes of "Dave Barry Hits Below the Beltway" there? I prefer his suggestion that we inject candidates with sodium pentathol.

  • ||

    Dear Sirs,
    Remember when people wondered why President Bush didn't oppose this legislation. Or why he teamed up with Sen. Kennedy on the education law? As we are seeing, Mr. Bush and his team are far, far smarter than the old Washington crowd.
    Regards,
    Roy

  • ||

    Lefty wants simply a requirement for full disclosure of campaign finances. Why? Who's the victim of a failure-to-disclose "crime?" I see no basis for any laws at all in this area. Whether or not a candidate reports the cash flow is just one more factor in my decision to vote for him or not.

  • ||

    >This is the kind of fear and uncertainty their >convoluted laws routinely impose on ordinary >Americans.

    Maybe they will conclude that being criminalized by said convoluted laws all law should be thrown out the window and go on a monumental crime spree. Maybe this conclusion was reached long ago.

  • ||

    It couldn't have happened to a better bunch of guys and gals! lol

    Hmmm....I wonder which Congressperson will belly up to the bar, and become everyone's hero (in Congress), by initiating a repeal of McCain Feingold.

    And....it seems that many are going through the various "stages of grief", once they realize what they voted into law. You know...denial, anger...lol

  • Rhywun||

    If this law is so bad, what can be done to stem the tide of grossly incompetent "leaders" from being elected merely by the size of their bank account (Gray Davis, Michael Bloomberg... I'm sure there are others...)? Short of passing a law instructing all voters to ignore the onslaught of lying political ads...? If nothing needs to be done, as many of you seem to imply, does that mean the current situation is OK? Just wondering, 'cause the bill seems silly to me too, but I am also sick and tired of the warchests that are being used to buy elections.

  • Lefty||

    Herniadude. Why disclosure? Good question.

    Aside from my need to know everything, I suppose knowing whose money is behind a candidate gives us insight into their possible motivation when it comes to specific issues that crop up from time to time. It's not a definitive "gotcha" thing but when taken in context of a candidate's history, it's valuable information.

    Ideally, candidates would have to wear suits with their coporate logos plastered all over them, like a Nascar driver.

    But I'm reasonable. I'd settle for mere public disclosure.

  • WildMonk||

    "McCain-Feingold may be an unconstitutional monstrosity, but maybe it will lead members of Congress to reconsider their habit of voting for legislation they haven't read. ...This is the kind of fear and uncertainty their convoluted laws routinely impose on ordinary Americans."

    No, it won't make them think twice about passing convoluted laws, it will just assure that they are more careful about passing any such laws that apply to them.

  • ||

    I agree with Parker, but with two codicils:

    Ia. Any individual may contribute any amount, but he/she must be able to prove the wherewithal--via a Federal Tax form--to have made the donation.

    Ib. Said individual must be a registered voter in the district in which the election is taking place.

    THAT's all the campaign finance control we need.

  • Lefty||

    Can a corporation, who doesn't vote anywhere, give money to a candidate? Please say yes. I'm liking my Nascar idea better and better.

  • Keith||

    "The senator from DuPont yields the balance of his time to his honorable colleague, the senator from great state of Archer Daniels Midland."

    oops, that wouldn't be anything new.

  • ||

    Ah, schadenfreude. A nasty little emotion, but worth the indulgence at times. :)

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