Return of the $1 Million Donor

Friday, June 24, 2005

ONE RELIABLE TEST for judging legislation these days is to look at the title; more often than not, you can assume that the measure will accomplish almost precisely the opposite of what its name boasts. A fine example of this is the 527 Fairness Act of 2005, a campaign finance bill that is about neither so-called 527s -- the outside groups that played such an influential role during the 2004 campaign -- nor fairness. In fact, the bill -- which has been approved by the House Administration Committee -- is about undermining the 2002 campaign finance law and again allowing megabucks donors to wield dangerous amounts of influence over politicians and political parties.

Sponsored by Reps. Mike Pence (R-Ind.) and Albert R. Wynn (D-Md.), it would remove any limits on how much individuals can contribute to candidates and parties in total donations. Currently, that ceiling is set just over $100,000 in the course of a two-year election cycle: $40,000 to federal candidates and $61,400 to political parties. Such ceilings have been in place since the campaign laws were revised in the wake of the Watergate scandal, and one of the main purposes of the McCain-Feingold campaign finance law was to reinforce them: Wealthy individuals were evading the limit by writing huge "soft money" checks to the political parties.

Messrs. Pence and Wynn, backed by House Administration Committee Chairman Robert W. Ney (R-Ohio), argue that lifting these limits helps level the playing field between regular political committees and 527 groups, which can raise funds in unlimited amounts and from corporate and labor union sources as well as from individuals. But the way to address the problem of 527s is to bring them within the rules that govern all groups whose purpose is to influence federal elections -- not, as this bill would do, to open the spigots wider for all. The Pence-Wynn "reform" would let a single donor give more than $1 million to a single political party each election, not including checks to candidates themselves -- and it would let elected officials solicit donors for such largesse.

The signal achievement of the McCain-Feingold law was to help stop this kind of corrupting transaction. No one who voted for that reform -- specifically, none of the 28 House Republicans who backed the measure -- can now credibly reverse course and support this attempt by the foes of McCain-Feingold to eviscerate it.


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