There is a legal axiom that says bad cases make bad law. The recent California case against Rep. Bobbi Fiedler suggests the converse is also true. Bad laws make bad cases. The Fiedler case was a very bad one.
If I've gotten the district attorney's modus operandi straight, it goes something like this: First locate a 100-year- old statute that hasn't been used since the Spanish-American War; second, pick a major, hotly contested federal election; third, receive word from the camp of Candidate A that Candidate B may be interested in helping pay off Candidate A's campaign debts; fourth, load up Candidate A's staff with tape recorders; fifth, have Candidate A's staff initiate several deceptive conversations with the staff of Candidate B; and, finally, without disclosing that you are a partisan Democrat, parade the whole show, including one-sided and inaccurate testimony, before a grand jury. You have now created an indictment.
Candidate A was Ed Davis. Candidate B was Bobbi Fiedler. The prosecutor was the great state of California. The district attorney was a member of the other party. The primary hostages were the citizens of California, the California Republican Senate race and candidates Davis and Fiedler.
The case has now been dismissed. I hope its hostages have been released as well. It's time we allowed the campaigns to begin again.
The prosecution, it turns out, was based on extremely meager, ambiguous and false statements. Bobbi Fiedler had not uttered a single direct word about buying Ed Davis out of the Senate race. All she did was express a willingness to help retire Davis' sizable campaign debt with, in her own words, no "quid pro quo" of any kind. For the good of the party. That kind of cooperation has been going on as long as we've had parties. It should be applauded, not condemned.
The prosecutor's case also happened to violate the U.S. Constitution, a fact that no doubt led to the dismissal. Federal law preempts the states' supervision of federal elections. Period.
In sharp contrast to the ambiguity and contrived nature of the Fiedler prosecution, the Constitution, Article VI, Clause 2, states with perfect clarity that federal statutes are to be "the supreme law of the Land." In the famous Supreme Court case of McCulloch v. Maryland, Chief Justice John Marshall confirmed that this supremacy clause renders null and void any state laws in conflict with the federal statute.
Congress passed federal campaign acts in 1971 and 1974 that specifically and undeniably preempt all state laws. The 1974 act states that "the provisions of this Act supersede and preempt any provisions of state law with respect to election to federal office." The legislative history similarly states unequivocally: "It is the intent of the Committee to preempt all state and local laws."
There is no question that the California law was was thereby constitutionally rendered completely inapplicable to any federal election, including the present California Senate race, in which Rep. Fiedler is engaged.
The factual deficiencies and unconstitutionality make the prosecutor's attempted revival of the obscure California law even more suspect. If the law has any salutary potential -- such as in those instances where a wealthy candidate flagrantly buys off all his foes -- its use in this case illustrates the mischief that can be summoned by filling a district attorney's arsenal with too many untested weapons. The prosecutorial abuse of a technical law may be much more damaging to society than the evil it was intended to deter.
The only conceivable basis for the California law is to ensure that the public retains a field of voluntary candidates for public office without undue interference from outside inducements. A sort of second cousin to bribery.
However, in the Fiedler case, the 1893 law -- after the prosecutor found it, dusted it off and welcomed it to the 20th century -- was forced into a factual situation where it didn't fit at all. Ironically, the prosecutorial interference in the California senatorial election was more damaging to the free election systems than a buyout of one of the seven candidates would have been. One could logically suggest that even if there were a buyout -- which was not the case here -- a candidate willing to be bought out is either not a viable candidate in the first place or not worth voting for in any event.
As for Bobbi Fiedler, there may be a silver lining in this case. I hope so. She is an outstanding person. There are only two women now serving in the U.S. Senate. Bobbi Fiedler represents an excellent opportunity to have a third. I'm glad she hasn't lost the fighting spirit. A lesser person would have quit in disgust.
Recent polls show her climbing out of the contrived pit the prosecution placed her in. She's doing it on her own. That's how it ought to be, receiving neither favor nor hindrance from the state.