Campaign finance debated Monday

The McCain-Feingold campaign finance bill, argued in front of the U.S. Supreme Court last week and potentially in violation of the First Amendment's rights of freedom of speech, freedom of petition and freedom of assembly, was discussed at a panel in the Butler Board Room on Monday night.

The law, also known as the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act, or BCRA, bans, as panelist moderator and professor James Thurber said, "unregulated soft money raised and spent by political groups and limits issue ads by outside interest groups" with a punishment of possible incarceration.

Kenneth Starr, who argued the case before the Supreme Court, said the bill does not limit contributions to candidates but to political parties, a seemingly paradoxical way to address corruption since parties are the "insulating force that buffers candidates from corruption."

Starr, known for leading the independent council on the Whitewater scandal, presented arguments for and against the bill in front of an estimated 150 people.ÿThe Supreme Court will make a decision in early December at the latest, Thurber said.

Other panelists included Thomas Mann, the senior fellow at the Brookings Institute, Trevor Potter, the founder of the Campaign Legal Center and former Federal Elections Commission commissioner and lawyers Robert Bauer and Cleta Mitchell.

Constitutionally, Congress cannot interfere with local and state elections and thus, this law violates organizations' rights to free speech and association, Thurber said.

Mann said the bill is necessary because "effective transparency" is impossible and thus, Congress is doing its best to fight corruption by simply banning all soft money contributions.

The case will rest on how Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, the swing vote, votes in the matter, Mann said. Regarding her stance on the issue, Mann simply said, "We don't have a clue what her views are."

"The core issue is what the Court must decide: 'Can money in politics be regulated at all?'" Potter said.

Bauer said the constitutional damage that might result if the Court upheld the law would allow for "political drive-by victims" who are unintentionally harmed by the law.

Lawyer Cleta Mitchell debunked many myths about campaign finance reform, especially the perception there is too much money in politics. In fact, as she pointed out, millions more are spent on potato chips than political campaigning and that is probably why "more people eat potato chips than vote."

The Center for Congressional and Presidential Studies (CCPS), who co-sponsored the event, conducts many forums to "increase understanding of governance with students and the broader academic community," explained Kenvin Lenaburg, the Assistant Director for the Center's Public Affairs and Advocacy Institute. The CCPS will be holding three weekend workshops that will also count as a one-credit class, for students who are interested in learning more.

Never miss a story

Get our weekly newsletter delivered right to your inbox.

More from The Eagle