Former Reason intern and current New York Post columnist Ryan Sager has a sharp piece about how conservative Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.) is using campaign-finance laws to attack a newspaper:
…Santorum grows more embarrassing to his party and to his home state of Pennsylvania every day.
No, he's not out comparing homosexuality to pedophilia and bestiality again; nor is he writing another book blaming America's social ills on "radical feminists."
This time, he's waging a campaign of harassment and intimidation against a local newspaper that he and his handlers apparently see as a threat. Their weapon of choice: campaign-finance law–specifically, McCain-Feingold.
Turns out the Scranton Times-Tribune is running an ad campaign featuring Santorum's rival in a tough senate race, Bob Casey Jr., in a mocked up page reading "Casey to run for Senate." The National Republican Senatorial Committee, with backing from the Santorum campaign, is, writes Sager, "very publicly threatening to file a complaint with the Federal Election Commission" on the grounds the ads are illegal donations to the Casey campaign.
Sager rightly calls this sort of action "nonsense" and notes that this sort of intimidation is on the rise:
* In 2004, CBS News was hit with an FEC complaint alleging that its (erroneous) story on Bush's National Guard service was a contribution to the Kerry campaign.
* The Sinclair Broadcast Group was hit by an FEC complaint for running an anti-John Kerry documentary two weeks before Election Day.
* Michael Moore was forced to curtail TV advertising for his anti-Bush film "Fahrenheit 9/11," lest it run afoul of McCain-Feingold's ban on ads mentioning candidates' names too close to Election Day.
* Rep. David Dreier (R-Calif.) filed an FEC complaint against a radio station in California for its "Fire Dreier" campaign in 2004, which took aim at his stance on immigration.
* Just last month, a judge in Washington ruled that two local talk-radio jocks had made an undisclosed campaign contribution to an anti-gas-tax ballot initiative by supporting it on their radio shows.
The FEC or higher courts eventually throw out most of this harassment. But that won't necessarily always be the case. And the harassment itself is a major problem. It means legal bills and PR headaches for the media outlets and others involved. And it gives campaigns, already addicted to hurling petty insults and charges at each other, one more big rock to throw.
Whole col here.
Reason's Matt Welch talked with former FEC head Brad Smith about the inanities of campaign-finance laws here.