John McCain

In Defense of 527s

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So now the Bush administration, caving to pressure from Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) is ready to bring a lawsuit to stop dreaded 527 groups such as Swift Boat Veterans for Truth and Moveon.org from being able to participate in politics. Reports Reuters,

President Bush on Thursday sought to ease differences with ally Sen. John McCain by promising to take legal action to stop a wave of ads by outside groups, including those attacking the war record of Bush's presidential election rival John Kerry.

The White House said Bush made the commitment to file a lawsuit against the Federal Election Committee when he spoke to McCain in a telephone call from Air Force One.

Whole thing here.

This is a purely cynical gesture on Bush's part, as his goombahs know full well than no lawsuit will have any impact prior to the election.

But the larger issue is the completely crapola campaign finance "reform" laws that gave rise to 527 groups in the first place. I remain dazzled by the way in the First Amendment is routinely abridged in the name of laws such as McCain-Feingold.

More to the point, we should ask of any attempt to silence or restrict speech, especially political speech: Is society as a whole--not individual groups and especially not individual candidates for office--better off with the speech or not?

Despite legitimate questions about the veracity of claims made by the Swift Boat group and Moveon.org alike, I don't think there's any question that the 527s have added massively to meaningful political dialogue; that they are a "loophole" to a law designed to shut down dissent is simply a bonus irony.

If anything, we need more groups like these, not fewer. Leaving political discussion to the candidates themselves, or their official party spokesmen, is ridiculous--and a slap in the face of true democracy and citizen participation. Should only Coke and Pepsi be allowed to describe and critique one another? Nor should it be illegal for such groups to "coordinate" activities with candidates or parties. Let it all hang out and trust the American voters to sift competing truth claims the way we do in every other aspect of our lives. If we can pick between Macs and PCs, Hertz and Avis, Britney and Christina, I suspect we can be trusted to separate wheat from chaff when it comes to the likes of Bush and Kerry (and Nader and Badnarik, etc).

Indeed, the only thing wrong with 527s is that they're an outgrowth of a useless and onerous set of laws that always, in the end, act to limit the number of voices in American politics (and don't even get me started on the equally idiotic and repressive ballot-access measures which, in the name of democracy, exclude alternative candidates with the impunity more commonly associated with banana republics and tinpot dictators than the land of the free and the home of the brave).

A few years back, the current chairman of the Federal Election Commission, Bradley Smith, told Reason a simple fix to campaign finance laws. Here it is, in its bold simplicity:

"The ideal system is the system we had that elected Abraham Lincoln and Grover Cleveland, which is no regulation."

Would that it were so.