McCain: Super-PACs will “destroy” political process, and it’s the Supreme Court’s fault

posted at 2:50 pm on January 13, 2012 by Ed Morrissey

Really? John McCain vents about the rise of super-PACs in the wake of the Citizens United v FEC ruling in 2009, which barred the government from regulating when and how people could engage in political speech during an election cycle.  McCain decries the decision, which gutted his Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act (known better as McCain-Feingold), and says that the Supreme Court will bear the blame for the destruction of the American political process:

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Sen. John McCain has endorsed Romney to win the primary.  He’s also the senator who championed the McCain-Feingold campaign finance law that was largely gutted by the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision.

On the campaign trail, we asked McCain about the ads from the SuperPAC that supports Romney.  He told us these SuperPACs will “destroy the political process,” and predicted “scandal” because of them.

We asked him why he or Governor Romney won’t publicly pressure these SuperPACs to take the ads down.

Here’s what he said:

McCain: Because they won’t stop. Because they won’t stop. I mean, as long as unlimited amounts of money are there, there not attributable to the candidate, it’s going to happen. I mean, it’s just, it is the way it is. We had campaign contribution limitations for a reason and the United States Supreme Court basically did away with all of that and we’re going to pay a heavy price for that and I also guarantee you that there will be scandals sooner or later.

What McCain fails to realize is that the campaign contributions themselves created the problem.  In fact, despite the Senator’s extemporaneous argument here, the Supreme Court left campaign contributions entirely intact.  The Citizens United ruling only upheld the First Amendment restriction on Congress from passing laws that restrict free speech — in this case, explicitly political speech, which was the original intention and purpose of the First Amendment.

The real problem arises from the series of complex and overlapping contribution limits placed on campaigns, along with absurd tax exemptions for political organizations.  If the federal government eliminated both the limits and the tax exemptions for all political donations and replaced them with requirements for immediate disclosure via constantly updated FEC and campaign websites (and fines for violations based on multipliers of the donations involved), the problem of unaccountable PACs and super-PACs would vanish overnight.  People would much rather donate directly to candidates or political parties, which would then be responsible for all of their own messaging and advertising.  The tax code would cease underwriting this nonsense, and we would know immediately who donates to whom and in what amount.

Instead, we have the same Senator who (apart from his other admirable qualities) wants to continue to insist that his failed approach — built on top of and because of the failed approach of those who preceded him — isn’t to blame for the current mess of outside groups and opacity.  McCain suffers from either a case of projection or the impulse to duck blame.  The actual blame for this mess goes to those who created, perpetuated, and expanded campaign finance “reform” structures that have obviously and utterly failed, not the Supreme Court that appears to have been the only people in Washington who can read the First Amendment and comprehend its meaning.

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