High court's ruling is all-out assault on right to engage in politics, Libertarians say
WASHINGTON, DC -- The Libertarian Party, which is one of the plaintiffs that challenged the campaign finance law upheld on Tuesday by the Supreme Court, has denounced the ruling as an "all-out assault on the right of every American to engage in the political process."
"Why not just outlaw elections and get it over with?" said Geoffrey Neale, the Libertarian Party's national chair. "The Supreme Court has just given incumbent politicians the power to financially cripple their competitors and, in the process, award themselves lifetime jobs."
In a 5-4 ruling that shocked advocacy groups across the political spectrum, the Supreme Court endorsed key provisions of the McCain-Feingold campaign finance law. Specifically, the court upheld a ban on "soft money" contributions from wealthy individuals, corporations and labor unions, as well the law's prohibition on running certain political advertisements within close proximity to an election.
But Libertarians point out that McCain-Feingold was nothing more than an incumbent protection act in the first place -- and that the court's ruling was tantamount to outlawing political competition.
"Running for office and communicating a message aren't free," Neale said. "So making it illegal to raise money to buy political ads, and banning the ads during the period when they're most effective, is tantamount to outlawing the message itself. That's a crime against the First Amendment as well as an affront to the democratic process."
Incumbent politicians already enjoy powerful advantages, Neale pointed out, such as name recognition and the ability to attract news media, taxpayer-financed staffs and office space, and the franking privilege.
The so-called campaign finance reform act was merely an attempt to eliminate the only weapon that many challengers have: contributions freely given by individuals or groups that share their views, he noted.
Acknowledging that the stated goal of the legislation was to clean up politics, Neale said: "Justice Sandra Day O'Connor pointed out that 'corruption, and in particular the appearance of corruption,' is rampant in Washington -- and of course, she's right.
"But a free-flowing, robust political debate isn't the problem; it's the solution. The only way to dislodge an entrenched, corrupt politician is to allow competing candidates, and anyone else who so chooses, to publicly criticize them and offer voters a better alternative.
"By upholding McCain-Feingold, the Supreme Court has merely guaranteed that corrupt politicians will stay in office for a longer period of time."
In March 1992, the Libertarian Party signed on as a co-plaintiff in McConnell v FEC, the lawsuit spearheaded by Kentucky Senator Mitch McConnell that sought to overturn the campaign finance reform law.
The party argued that the law would have a devastating impact on its activities by eliminating certain sources of revenue and imposing significant regulatory and administrative burdens.
For example, the law prohibits the organization from accepting donations of more than $25,000 from any individual; prevents it from taking money from organizations that are not "recognized political committees," so it cannot sell ads in its party newspaper to nonprofit corporations or incorporated businesses; and cannot accept funds for memberships or literature from its own state affiliates, unless they also comply with the law's onerous regulations.
However, the party was vindicated by one aspect of Tuesday's ruling, Neale added, when the court struck down the provision of the law banning minors from making contributions to political parties.
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