THE MCCAIN-FEINGOLD-QADHAFY ACT
By Imad-ad-Dean Ahmad, Ph.D.
Minaret of Freedom Institute
From time to time I enjoy pointing out how certain good ideas that the West has adopted had their origins in Islamic thought. For example, Umar ibn Khattab pioneered the concept of full disclosure when he enthusiastically complied with a citizen's demand to know from where he had gotten his cloak. The McCain-Feingold Campaign Finance Reform Bill seems to have gotten its inspiration not from Umar ibn Khattab, however, but from Muammar Qadhafy, a somewhat more disputable fountainhead of Muslim thought. (A Western journalist once noted that Qadhafy's Green Book seemed to be inspired less by the Qur'an, which it never cites, and more by a really bad Arabic translation of John Locke.) Now the U.S. Senate seems intent on adopting what may be the worst idea in volume 1 of the Green Book.
American jurisprudence has, to this point, made a distinction between campaign activity, which is subject to regulation, and political speech, which must be completely free and unfettered. Thus, the amount of money you can donate to a particular candidate's campaign is strictly limited by law, but the amount of money you can spend promoting your own views on issues or criticizing the government is unlimited. This distinction has lead to concerns by some that so-called "soft money" is being spent putatively to promote issues or to criticize government policy that effectively promotes the campaigns of particular candidates in ways that do not violate the laws regulating "hard money" expenditures. The challenge to those who would impose restrictions on soft money is to find a way to do it that does not violate the First Amendments absolute protection of free speech.
The McCain-Feingold Act presumes to navigate these dangerous waters by introducing a distinction between spending by individuals and spending by organizations. The constitutionality of this approach is being stridently debated, with cause. What struck me is how similar to one proposed by Qadhafy. In volume 1 of the Green Book, Qadhafy proposes to absolutely guarantee freedom of speech for the individual while totally subjecting social speech to the presumed will of society. The means of effecting this magic is by permitting no governmental controls on the opinions of individuals but totally prohibiting anyone from speaking in a corporate or organizational voice except through the social mechanisms approved by his revolution. McCain and Feingold seem to have adopted the same litmus test in deciding which forms of soft money spending are permitted and which are not. Now, apparently, David Hurwitz can buy advertisements opposing reparations to African-Americans, but the American Muslim organizations cannot buy ads criticizing Congressional aid to Israel on the grounds that the former is an individual, entitled to freedom of speech, and the latter is are corporations, to be denied it.
The attempt at further regulation of political speech in this country follows a pattern that has been seen time after time in issue after issue. Regulations are passed to try to solve a perceived problem. When the regulations are sidestepped or gotten around, more Draconian legislation is introduced which is also sidestepped or simply violated. This gives rise to calls for even more Draconian legislation. This has certainly been the pattern with campaign finance reform. Remember how when Al Gore participated in a fundraiser at a Buddhist temple, clearly a case of illegal campaign contributions, the response of the Administration was not to more scrupulously enforce the laws he violated, but rather to demand that even stricter laws be passed for politicians to violate with impunity.
Finally there is the great danger that the ultimate legislation will be completely publicly financed elections. Not only will the fox guard the henhouse, he will be given the only set of keys to it. The proposal will put the already too powerful incumbents in complete charge of "the mother's milk of politics." The people will have been effectively and completely silenced and all power in the hands of the state. Then American politics will follow not Mummar Qadhafy, but Saddam Hussein.
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