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Friday, December 12, 2003

Was South Carolina Snookered?
Today's Charleston Post and Courier runs a story whose headline is "Ruling Could Restrain Attack Ads." (free registration required.) The story goes on to suggest that the McCain-Feingold law will reduce anonymous attacks on candidates such as South Carolina has witnessed recently.

The Supreme Court's ruling on electioneering ads was generally a good thing, but we shouldn't expect too much of it. The McCain-Feingold law says that outside groups use corporate and labor funds to run ads on broadcast TV and radio within 60 days of an election if they mention a candidate's name. That still leaves an awful lot of room for attack ads. Consider:

1) Candidates themselves as well as parties will have more money than before, due to the increased hard money limits in McCain-Feingold. They'll be free to spend this money on attack ads.

2) Outside groups will be free to take unlimited sums of money from wealthy individuals, and use them to run attack ads.

3) Outside groups could even take unlimited sums of money from corporations and use them for attack mailings or other forms of advertising such as so-called telephone "push polls." South Carolina should remember these well from the 2000 presidential campaign when John McCain was smeared by anonymous negative phone calls. These calls worked. After winning the New Hampshire primary, McCain lost South Carolina to George Bush who went on to win the nomination and presidency.

Misguided Reform Proposal in Oklahoma
Sometimes you can tell that politicians really don't get the depth of our problems by the shallowness of the solutions they propose. Here's an example from Oklahoma, where state representative John Trebilcock is proposing a bill that would make it illegal to give an elected official a campaign contribution inside the halls of the legislature.

This kind of solution crops up because legislators feel slimy when a lobbyist gives them money right before they go into vote on something. They worry that it might look like the money influenced how they voted. But changing the time or place that the check is given won't accomplish much of anything. As long as big money helps candidates win elections, those candidates who saddle up to the lobbyists will get more money from the lobbyists. They'll then defeat candidates who stand up to the lobbyists. So unless politicians are particularly thick-headed (and maybe a few are), they'll quickly figure out how to vote in ways that keep the lobbyists happy regardless of when or how the lobbyist helps them win their campaign.


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