Introduction Key Stories Opinion Key Players Matching Game Coffee Guests Overnight Guests Discussions Web Links

Politics Section
Special Reports

Limits for Soft Money

By Russell D. Feingold
Wednesday, March 19 1997; Page A19

George Will takes some pretty extraordinary positions in his recent column [op-ed, March 2] attacking the McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform legislation.

First, Will seems to believe there is a "constitutional right" to make "soft money" contributions.

"Soft money" refers to unlimited campaign contributions from corporations, labor unions and wealthy individuals. Since 1907, campaign contributions from corporations to federal candidates have been outlawed. A similar ban on contributions from unions was enacted in 1943. In 1976 the Supreme Court said the size of individual contributions can be limited – the current federal limit that the court upheld is $1,000 from an individual to a candidate per election. The court has said these kinds of restrictions on the source and size of contributions to candidates are permissible in order to protect our electoral system from corruption or the appearance of corruption. The court reached the logical conclusion that unrestricted contributions could undermine the integrity of our elections and our democracy.

Thus, under current law, soft money can not be given directly to a federal candidate. In recent years, however, both political parties began collecting soft money contributions and using them to benefit federal candidates. The McCain-Feingold legislation would shut down this soft money machine by imposing the same type of restrictions on contributions to national parties and campaign committees that are currently imposed upon federal candidates. Will's suggestion that closing the loopholes that have allowed soft money to make its way back into the system violates a "constitutional right" is ludicrous.

Second, Will suggests the McCain-Feingold legislation somehow runs afoul of the Constitution in the area of "express advoca\cy" or "independent expenditures" – campaign activities paid for by groups other than candidates themselves. Yet Will acknowledges the court has already upheld laws regulating these activities. The legislation simply would mean that soft money can't be used to fund these activities and that the expenditures must be publicly disclosed so the voters will know who is paying for the barrage of campaign ads they endure every election season. It wouldn't prevent these activities.

Groups that want to engage in campaign activities designed to affect the outcome of an election are free to do so, but they must abide by the the same kinds of rules imposed directly upon the candidates and political parties. These rules apply equally to corporations, labor unions and other groups – if they want to try to elect or defeat candidates, they have to use "hard" money, and they have to disclose what they are doing.

The McCain-Feingold legislation is designed to close loopholes in the system that have allowed a flood of special-interest money to infiltrate and undermine the integrity of our elections.

Contrary to Will's suggestion, the Constitution grants no right to buy an election or conceal from the voters who is paying for campaign ads.

The writer, a Democratic senator from Wisconsin, is cosponsor of the campaign finance bill.

© Copyright 1997 The Washington Post Company

Back to the top

Go to Campaign Finance Report | Go to Politics Section
Navigation image map
Home page Site Index Search Help! Home page Site Index Search Help!