McCain pushing for "disclosure" of contributions

By Paul M. Weyrich
web posted July 10, 2000

Thanks to the initiative of former presidential candidate John McCain, the two houses of Congress are tripping over themselves trying to take away more of our freedoms in the electoral process. You will recall that McCain, as one of the cornerstones of his presidential campaign, made a major issue out of campaign finance reform. Since returning to the Senate following his defeat by Governor George W. Bush of Texas, McCain has gone out of his way to break with his party on these campaign finance issues.

Thus McCain locks horns with the Majority Leader Trent Lott and most especially with Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Chairman of the Republican Senatorial campaign committee. McCain has become the Democrat's favorite Republican. McConnell has labeled McCain and other Republican defectors on the issue "New York Times Republicans." He says they are being driven by the editorial page of the Times rather than the national interest or the interest of their own party.

To make a long story short, McCain teamed with the Democrats and a handful of other Republicans and was able to pass a measure requiring "disclosure" of contributions to so-called 527 organizations that put out material that in any way impacts on the political process. McCain has bitterly attacked the Christian Coalition, for example. Well, the Christian Coalition is one such organization that puts out information on the voting records of incumbents and issue positions of candidates. There are many other such organizations including business groups and labor unions which fall under the same category.

So now the mantra concerning these groups is "disclosure". Everyone is for sunshine and in theory it sounds good. If a group is in some way impacting in the political process why shouldn't we know who is behind that group financially?

Let's flash back to the 1950's. The NAACP and other civil rights groups were trying to pass legislation. Bitter Southern opponents demanded to know who was contributing to that cause. They filed a lawsuit that went all the way to the Supreme Court. The Court held unanimously that it would be an infringement on the first amendment rights of the NAACP if they were required to disclose their contributors.

More recently the Federal Election Commission tried to force the National Right to Work Committee to disclose its list of contributors. Don't you believe that the labor Unions were dying to get their hands on that list so they could go after whatever business interests might be involved? The Right to Work Committee fights compulsory unionism. Reed Larson, who was one of the founders of the Committee and still heads it up, vowed he would go to jail before he would surrender his lists. Eventually the courts forced the FEC to back off.

So now comes Congress to do the same thing. In the name of being open in the political process, the Congress wants everyone to have to disclose to whom they are contributing. What that will do in plain English is to remove virtually everyone who cares about issues from the political process. Years ago, the Coors brewery gave a grant to the Free Congress Foundation for a conference that highlighted homosexuals who had abandoned that lifestyle. Coors got tagged with being anti-gay and the label hasn't gone away to this day.

Imagine then, every time a controversial issue comes up on either side of the spectrum involving guns or national defense or abortion or the environment or you name it - if a campaign is begun to educate voters and legislators on the merits or demerits of a particular bill - anyone contributing over a small amount to that effort would have their name made public. They would then be subjected to all kinds of pressure and eventually government regulation. Only a handful of people will ever do that.

If such a law had been in effect in 1994, Hillary Care would have passed the Congress and been signed into law. Many who contributed money to the effort to defeat it did so at their own peril, for the Clinton Administration was in a position to punish them for their opposition. Under the current law, the Clintons had a problem. They simply lacked any proof about who contributed what to whom and thus they couldn't go after their opposition. Mind you we are talking about groups that deal with issues here.

Contributions to candidates are already heavily regulated and full disclosure is required. All of a sudden, now the Congressional leadership claims that they were always for disclosure, that disclosure would be great for the political process and they just can't get enough of it.

Some labor unions are against this approach. So are a few remaining conservatives. Let us hope that together they have enough clout and votes to defeat it. Our first amendment rights are at stake here. The political process will again be altered without our consent if these bills are passed and signed into law.

Sunshine seems like a good thing until you are blinded by it.

Paul Weyrich is president of the Free Congress Foundation.

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