McCain's Shovel: Digging the Free Speech Grave

The Washington Post reported this morning that a group of 12 grass-roots groups, that includes both liberal and conservative organizations, have written congressional leaders opposing Sen. John McCain’s plan require lobbysists to disclose their expenditures.

The articles only listed 5 groups, the single named conservative group being the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. The others included the Justice, League of Conservation Voters, NAACP and NARAL Pro-Choice America.

Alliance for Justice President Nan Aron’s argument for being exempted from the legislation is banked in First Amendment rights, that was similarly used by Republicans like Dick Armey, and ignored by liberals, during campaign-finance reform debates in 2002. 

Aron told the Post, "We must do everything we can to eliminate corruption in today’s lobbying practices, but we cannot do so at the expense of free speech.The grass-roots lobbying reform . . . will interfere with the rights of Americans to receive information about important public issues and to meaningfully engage their elected representatives."

But, now that these groups are getting a dose of the medicine they’ve been force feeding politicians and campaign contributors, they don’t seem to like it. The "right to free speech" that was ignored in 2002, mandated complicated disclosure obligations, aggregate caps on different donations and limits on when certain types of advertisements could be aired implemented under McCain-Feingold in 2002 created a number of "loopholes" for certain classes of groups that weren’t regulated. It seems now that grass-roots groups benefited under one of  them. Now Sen. McCain, Congress and everyone else is being dragged through "lobbying reform" created by McCain-Feingold campaign finance "reform."

The lesson? Bad policy, leads to more bad policy, two wrongs don’t make a right and all those other cliches hold true in Abramoff aftermath McCain is attempting to clean up with his legislative shovel.

Perhaps someone might gently pry that shovel from McCain’s hands and begin digging a grave for a different abstraction: campaign finance reform.