No one is really surprised by this, right? John McCain blasted the Supreme Court in January for gutting his signature McCain-Feingold law by, er, not allowing the federal government to criminalize political speech. At the time, he warned that super-PACs would “destroy the political process.” Now McCain wants to rein in the super-PACs, and he’s going to partner with Democrats to kneecap them:
Good-government advocates who worked with McCain in the 1990s and early 2000s had begun to think he’d given up on the issue. But McCain said Tuesday he could join Democrats once again to form a bipartisan coalition, even though it would annoy the Republican leadership.
“I’ve been having discussions with Sen. [Sheldon] Whitehouse [D-R.I.] and a couple others on the issue,” McCain told The Hill.
McCain said he wants to ensure the legislation is balanced to cover labor union activity as well as spending by corporations and rich individuals.
“I want it to be balanced and address the issue of union contributions as well as other outside contributions,” he said.
At least that would be novel, since his BCRA didn’t bother to do so the first time around. However, it’s just as illegitimate to prevent unions to conduct political speech as it is corporations or people in general. The First Amendment bars Congress from passing laws infringing on free speech expressly for the purpose of protecting political speech, not nudity or the sports section.
McCain should be acknowledging that super-PACs are largely his fault, and the fault of other reformers. For the last 40 years, reformers have tried to chase money out of politics, but it simply doesn’t work because people want to get their political messages published and will find ways to do it. The reforms, culminating in the BCRA, have made the process overwhelmingly less transparent, and driven people to form these political groups to avoid campaign finance restrictions. The money that flows into super-PACs would normally go directly to candidates, who at least have to be held accountable for their messaging by the voters.
Real campaign finance reform would consist of eliminating artificial barriers that incentivize people to redirect their cash to outside groups, revoking the tax-exempt status of all political organizations and campaigns, and forcing full and immediate transparency on all contributions to candidates for federal-level offices. The Internet makes that not only possible, but more cost-effective than filing paper forms at the FEC. If McCain wants to be part of the solution rather than part of the problem, that’s the kind of proposal we should be seeing. Given who he’s partnering with on this effort, that outcome seems very, very unlikely.
Update: My second-to-last sentence had problem and solution reversed, but I’ve fixed it now.