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Democracy: Finance Reform Law

     The Senate Subcommittee on Rules and Application held hearings to discuss election financial reform as proposed in the McCain-Feingold Bill. The level of discussion was admirable, and the arguments would be of interest to all WAISers, especially Larry Diamond, who follows democracy around the world.
     The discussion was very American. It hinged largely on the First Amendment of the Constitution, what was treated as though it were a sacred document. Christopher Dodd, the ranking Democrat member, took out a rumpled copy of it from his pocket and waved it before the audience. There was the usual boasting. Senator Robert Toricelli said the American system was the least corrupt in the world, and Chairman Mitch McConnell said that in the countries which have strict financing laws, such as Canada, Japan, France and Sweden, public dissatisfaction with government is greater than in the US. In fact, even if true, that is not a test. Probably today in Cuba if there were a free poll, a large majority would express satisfaction with the Cuban government.
     There was the usual American vision of government as a business. Kathleen Sullivan, Dean of Stanford Law School, justified soft money by comparing giving money to a party to investing in a mutual fund. The comparison is fallacious, because the companies selected by the mutual fund really compete, whereas party discipline is such that, after the electoral fight, congressmen are expected to toe the parry line. Senator McCain knows this all too well.
     The idea of a constitutional amendment was rejected by Dean Sullivan and by Lillian BeVier of the Virginia Law School. Strangely they were supported by Ira Glasser of the ACLU, who wants no restrictions on "expression," which includes not only tobacco advertising but also marches by the Nazis or the Ku Klux Klan. Alan Morrison of Public Citizen put forward a reasoned defense of campaign reform.
     Not only was the level of debate high, the level of confrontation was low, since all realized how very complex the whole issue is. However, the public response to it would probably be that the McCain-Feingold Bill did not get a fair hearing.

Ronald Hilton - 3/23/00