HUMAN EVENTS Interview:Pence Promotes Free Speech for Political Parties

By sharply limiting the contributions Americans may make to traditional political parties, the McCain-Feingold campaign finance law of 2002 gave disproportionate power over election-year debates to billionaires such as George Soros, who remain free to provide unlimited funds to 527 groups such as House Republican Study Committee Chairman Mike Pence (R.-Ind.) has introduced legislation to establish a balance of power between 527s and political parties by promoting–not restricting–speech. He explained his proposal to HUMAN EVENTS Editor Terence P. Jeffrey. Last year, we had 527 groups such as Swift Boat Veterans for Truth on the right and on the left spending millions delivering their messages and trying to affect the election. Do you think there was anything wrong, or un-American, with these groups trying to get their messages out that way? REP. MIKE PENCE: I don’t think there was anything wrong with the Summer of 527s, as it has come to be known, apart from the fact that groups on the left and right under Section 527 of the Internal Revenue Code spent more than $300 million to support candidates while the two major political parties and the nation’s most respected labor unions, associations, businesses and constitutional groups seemed to watch in silence from the sidelines. So, you could have a left-wing billionaire like George Soros funneling as much money as he wanted into 527s to attack conservatives and Republicans, but a Republican with equal resources could not give his money to the Republican Party to answer back? PENCE: Both under the rules that existed before McCain-Feingold and after there are severe restrictions on the ability of any American to contribute to either political party or to some of the most respected third-party organizations in America that the 527s simply don’t face. What we saw was the emergence of an extraordinary loophole in the law that resulted in an unfair advantage to 527s over the nation’s political parties and other organizations that have been serving the interests of Americans left, right and center for decades. Right now, if someone wanted to get his message out, there is no limit on the contributions he could make to a 527, but if he wanted to give it to a traditional political party, he would be limited? PENCE: That is precisely correct. You would be limited not only in the type of money you could contribute, but you could not give over a specific, set amount. Whereas, in the case of George Soros, he was able to contribute tens of millions to a 527 and to raise tens of millions from sources that to this day remain a mystery as to their ultimate origins. Isn’t it ironic that the McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform tried to limit the power of extremely wealthy people to influence elections but actually made such people more powerful than traditional political parties? PENCE: I think there is a great deal of irony in that. Much of the rhetoric surrounding McCain-Feingold was about getting the big money out of politics. Truth be told, in a certain sense they succeeded: They succeeded in getting large unregulated dollars out of the accountable environment of political parties and long-established third-party groups and into the amorphous world of the 527s. You would like to reestablish some balance of power here? PENCE: That is exactly right. The 527 Fairness Act is a bipartisan effort to level the playing field between 527s and political parties and third-party organizations. While some in Washington want to respond to the Summer of 527s by reining in 527s with greater government control and regulations, the 527 Fairness Act by Rep. Albert Wynn (D.-Md.) and myself takes the approach of reestablishing basic fairness by simply allowing political parties and third-party organizations to more effectively compete with the 527s in both the way that they raise and spend money. You do not want to limit the free-speech rights of or Swift Boat Veterans for Truth? PENCE: There is nothing in the 527 Fairness Act that restricts the money raising or spending activities of 527s. What are the current restrictions on giving money to political parties, and on parties spending money, that you would like to change? PENCE: To begin with, we think that by removing the aggregate limits on contributions to federal committees and parties we would do a great deal to level the playing field. By “aggregate,” you mean the total amount of money any individual can give to multiple federal election campaigns? PENCE: That’s exactly right. Right now, individual donors have a total aggregate limit for a two-year federal election cycle of $101,400. That’s the limit on an individual’s total contributions to presidential races, senatorial races, congressional races, and national, state and local parties and political action committees. But the real problem is the sublimit of $61,400 to all national party committees, which forces them to compete with each other for committed partisan donors. Today, they can give only $2,000 to an individual representative’s or senator’s campaign in that two-year cycle? PENCE: It’s actually $2,100 for the primary and $2,100 for the general election to any federal candidate and that limit wouldn’t change under my bill. But there also is the total aggregate limit. What the 527 Fairness Act does essentially is repeal that aggregate limit. Currently, an individual may not contribute any more than $26,700 to any one party committee in a calendar year. The 527 Fairness Act also does not change that. Nor does it lift the hard-dollar limit on contributions to political action committees. But right now, once an individual has hit the aggregate limit of $101,400 or the sublimit within that, he cannot give any more to federal campaigns and party committees or political action committees. So, individuals on the left and right may be forced to choose among contributing to the senatorial committee of their party, or the congressional committee, or the national committee. When they contribute to one they may reduce their ability to contribute to the others. The 527 Fairness Act lifts that aggregate limit. You are cosponsoring this with Rep. Albert Wynn, a member of the Congressional Black Caucus? PENCE: He is a very prominent member, and he has been instrumental in developing several elements of the bill, most especially those having to do with political parties and state and local parties. There is a competitive bill in the House? PENCE: There is. Rep. Chris Shays (R.-Conn.) and Rep. Marty Meehan (D.-Mass.) have introduced the bill that Sen. John McCain (R.-Ariz.) and Sen. Russ Feingold (D.-Wis.) have introduced in the Senate, the 527 Reform Act. The new McCain-Feingold bill would have the federal government regulate the 527s like it regulates hard-money committees? PENCE: I wouldn’t want to characterize the bill. I am not an expert on it. But my understanding is that the bill–which recently went through a pretty significant amendment process in committee–at least at its core is an effort to move 527s under the hard-dollar limits and reporting requirements contemplated in McCain-Feingold. Why are they so dedicated to trying to limit political speech? PENCE: At the very center of the bill Rep.Wynn and I have authored is a belief that the antidote to challenges in the political system of a free society is more freedom not less. I have quoted on numerous occasions the statement by President Thomas Jefferson, who said: “I would rather be exposed to the inconveniences attending too much liberty than those attending too small a degree of it.” The Washington Post last week editorialized against your bill. But it seems if we go in the direction of McCain-Feingold and start expanding government regulation of political speech, we would end up with a system where the Post, the New York Times and CBS could express their political views with whatever money they could muster, but regular Americans would be limited in what they could spend on political speech. PENCE: I believe that’s the direction that we are going. To the extent we continue to draw a tighter and tighter rein on the use of political contributions as an expression of free speech by individuals and organizations, it does seem to me that we are going to a place where only those who buy ink by the barrel or broadcast ideas as media outlets will have the full force of the 1st Amendment at their disposal and the rest of us will be forced to live under the strictures of what we will call campaign-finance reform.