Steve Fair

Steve Fair

The Duncan Banner

The bipartisan campaign Reform Act, aka the McCain-Feingold Act was enacted in January of 2003. McCain-Feingold changed how political campaigns were financed. One of the most controversial provisions of the law banned so called ‘issue advertising’ by corporations and unions.

Back in 2002, then Majority Whip of the Senate, Senator Mitch McConnell (R-KY) led a charge to challenge the constitutionality of the law, but the Supreme Court upheld most of the legislation in “McConnell vs. the FEC.”

After McCain-Feingold became law, Oklahoma and other states established strict guidelines that mirrored the new law which prohibited corporate contributions to state and local political campaigns.

Many constitutional experts said this was a clear violation of the first amendment which guarantees the “right of free speech,” but until this week, McCain-Feingold was the law of the land.

On Thursday, the Supreme Court, in a 5-4 decision, reversed the limit on corporate political expenditures. The decision will allow businesses and unions to run ‘issue advertising’ in campaigns and will likely reshape the November 2010 elections. President Obama said the ruling “gave a green light to a new stampede of special-interest money in our politics, particularly big oil, Wall Street banks, health-insurance companies and other powerful interests that will drown out the voices of everyday American.”

Senator McConnell said the court’s ruling was a “monumental decision toward restoring First Amendment rights by ruling the Constitution protects their right to express themselves about political candidates and issues up until Election Day.”

In an editorial on Friday, The Oklahoman said, “Unfortunately, McCain-Feingold’s good intentions tread all over the First Amendment, whose value to the republic is the guarantee of more speech, not less. Government rightfully should be concerned with preserving the electoral process’ integrity. But as we’ve long argued, this is best done through transparency and honest disclosure, both of which let Americans assign weight to messages heard during election season.”

Marilyn Hughes, Executive Director of the Oklahoma Ethics Commission, said the US Supreme Court decision will also impact Oklahoma politics.

“The ruling changes the whole complexion of political campaigns,” Hughes said. The five member Oklahoma Ethics Commission is scheduled to vote this week on changes to state ethics rules to comply with the new decision.

Some liberals are saying the top court’s ruling will pour more money into a political system already driven by big money donors. But as Paula Baker in her book “Money and Politics” says; Americans spend three times more on potato chips than on politics, so the idea there is too much money in politics is somewhat exaggerated. Not that anyone in their right mind doesn’t believe there isn’t too much money in politics.

For example in 2000, the average U.S. Congressional race cost $500,000 to win — today it’s up to over $1 million. Why is money driving politics and how do we get true campaign finance reform?

First, we have obscene money in politics because the average citizen pays little or no attention to their government. Because of citizen slothfulness, slick campaigns are a necessary part of a successful candidate’s strategy. A shallow campaign and message is more important than principles in today's political environment. Until America has a vigilent, 24/7 engaged electorate, we will continue to see big money and shallow campaigns control the political landscape. Every political campaign and candidate needs money, but until more average citizens are willing to help financially, the big donors will control the process. True campaign finance reform could happen if average citizens would put their money where their mouth is and begin donating money to principled candidates they agree with.

In 2008, then candidate Barrack Obama claimed he was going to “change the way campaigns are funded in his presidential race.” He claimed his 2008 fundraising success was based on small donors, but despite attracting millions of new contributors to his campaign, Obama received about the same percentage of his total political funds from “small donors” as President Bush did in 2004, according to a study by the non-partisan Campaign Finance Institute. It’s one thing to talk about building a small donor base, but it’s much tougher to accomplish.

Second, because modern political candidates don’t run their campaigns with volunteers, politics has become a growing industry. Consultants and political hacks siphon off most of the money political candidates raise in their race and often these consultants have the big donors in their pocket.

Years ago, talented volunteers ran effective campaigns for their principled friends and neighbors. Now those volunteers are relegated to menial tasks that are non-threatening to the so-called experts. Until volunteers are empowered by candidates, and small donors contribute in mass, we will continue to have big money donors and political consultants running the process.

The Supreme Court decision this week rightfully restored first amendment rights to a segment of the population whose civil rights were being restricted. But the millions of citizens in the U.S. who have never exercised their First Amendment rights in the political process by placing their treasure where their heart is can permanently change America if they will only take equity in their government by volunteering and donating to like-minded candidates.



— Steve Fair is Chairman of the Stephens County Republican Party. He can be reached by phone at 580.252.6284 or by email at okgop@aol.com. His blog is stevefair.blogspot.com.

This Week's Circulars