John T. (Terry) Dolan and his very own creation, the National Conservative Political Action Committee, provided a spring preview of thier ambitious plans for the next year's congressional elections. For anyone who have missed the 1980 Senate races, Dolan and NCPAC spent over $1.2 million in six states for the sole stated purpose of defeating Democratic incumbents Birch Bayh, Frank Church, Alan Cranston, John Culver, Tom Eagleton and George McGovern. Only Cranston and Eagleton won. Now, starting in April 1981, more than 18 months before Election Day, Terry Dolan has revealed that NCPAC will spend $400,000 just to defeat Democratic Sen. Paul Sarbanes of Maryland. The first batch of anti-Sarbanes television spots should soon be on the air in Washington where their objectives are to disenchant Sarbanes' constituents and to terrify his colleagues.
Yes -- before anyone asks -- there is a tough federal election law that limits contributions by individuals and political action committees in all federal races to maximums of $1,000 and $5,000, respectively. However, the Supreme Court, in upholding the election law, ruled that individuals could spend as much as they wished in support of or in opposition to a candidate as long as they did so independent of the candidate's campaign. There could be no collaboration or cooperation between the independent expender and the campaign. Terry Dolan and NCPAC are protected under the First Amendment. Just like Bob Guccione and Penthouse.
In 1980, Dolan wrote in a fund-raising letter that Edward Kennedy, then running for president, "can legally spend as much of his own money as he wants -- and he's got millions." Surely, someone as intimate with the election law as Dolan knew that Kennedy could not legally spend more than $50,000 of his own money.
In the fall of 1980, NCPAC and Dolan censured Eagleton for "giving $75 million in aid to a revoluntionary government in Nicaragua." Eagleton had in fact voted against aid to Nicaragua, just as Frank Church had voted against the Senate salary hike that NCPAC, in a television commercial, accused Church of voting for. Dolan and NCPAC did pull that Idaho spot off the air, but would not apologize for their campaign poster in South Dakota, which had a shooting target imposed over George McGovern's face. "I don't see anything wrong with that," said Dolan. "It was not intended to mean you should shoot McGovern."
Dolan is negative even about fellow Republicans. He called Sen. Howard Baker "a bad leader" and likened the Tennessean to "a drunken distant relative" with little capacity for harming the Reagan administration. Dolan, who in 1980 said that former Republican national chairman Bill Brock "should have been fired long ago," has put Republican Senate incumbents John Chafee, Lowell Weicker and Robert Stafford on NCPAC's 1982 hit list.
But the question is not a constitutional one; it is a political one. Dolan's free speech is guaranteed. But what about the candidates who run against the targeted NCPAC incumbents? Are they seriously asking us to believe that they are unaware of what Dolan and NCPAC are doing to their opponents?
Come on. The candiate has not yet been born in or out of wedlock who cannot tell you everything good or bad, written or spoken, and by whom, about his opponent in the last 36 months. That's the nature of the beast. Any candidate who is unaware that his opponent is being trashed in half a million dollars' worth of television spots by NCPAC and its allied attack dogs isn't a good bet to have in public office.
So let's approach 1982 like grown-ups. If, for example, Rep. Marjorie Holt, who's thinking about running against Sarbanes next year, likes the NCPAC spots, she should let us know.No baloney, please, about the First Amendment. We're not discussing Dolan's right to say what he wants. We are questioning the political beneficiaries' priviilege to pretend to ignore the potentially helpful spots. Just because you subscribe to the First Amendment doesn't mean you have to subscribe to Hustler.
That's the simple proposition: If NCPAC or any other independent expender, left or right, attacks an incumbent and if the challenger objects to those attacks, there is one sure-fire solution. All the challenger has to do is to have a copy of an old campaign poll or memo delivered to the independent expender's office. You see, that would constitute cooperation and collaboration, and the independent expender would no longer be independent. No more celebrations of ignorance in 1982.