From the beginning, McCain-Feingold was a political Trojan Horse. Its stated purpose did not reflect its actual purpose. Its stated purpose was to clean up politics by tightly regulating the amount of money political parties and candidates could accept from donors. Its actual purpose, to use [George] Soros’s words, was to curb the “use of TV advertising” in American politics. “Television ads are doubly corrupting: They substitute misleading, negative sound bites for honest statements, and they are paid for by donor (read: special-interest) money,” wrote Soros in his 2000 book Open Society: Reforming Global Capitalism.
Any doubts about the intentions of the McCain-Feingold legislation were dispelled by its actual results. As we shall see, the spending caps imposed by McCain-Feingold were widely ignored, in many cases by the very politicians who had pushed for them most strongly. Rather than limiting the amount of money in politics, the passage of McCain-Feingold ushered in a record increase in political contributions. This development seemed to provoke only shrugs from the chief proponents of “campaign finance reform” who populated Soros’s many and increasingly effective front groups.
The real impact of McCain-Feingold has been to regulate political speech rather than finances, and it accomplished this with a vengeance. The legislation bars private organizations, including unions, corporations and citizen activist groups, from advertising for or against any candidate for federal office on TV or radio 60 days before a general election, and 30 days before a primary. Only official political parties may engage in “express advocacy” for or against a candidate during that black-out period. The law does grant an exemption, however, to major (Democrat-leaning) media networks. Unlike ordinary citizens, major media networks may use the airwaves and cable networks to say whatever they like about any candidate on their news reports and talk shows during the 60- or 30-day black-out period. Thus the law grants to a handful of media organizations what amounts to a government-enforced monopoly on political speech during election season.
Many people assumed the Supreme Court would strike down McCain-Feingold. But they were proved wrong. In a move that stunned civil libertarians, the Supreme Court approved McCain-Feingold on December 10, 2003 by a one-margin vote. In a dissenting opinion, Judge Antonin Scalia wrote:
Who could have imagined that the same Court which, within the past four years, has sternly disapproved of restrictions upon such inconsequential forms of expression as virtual child pornography, tobacco advertising, dissemination of illegally intercepted communications and sexually explicit cable programming would smile with favor upon a law that cuts to the heart of what the First Amendment is meant to protect: the right to criticize government?
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