NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

"527s" Provide Unregulated Political Speech -- and Funds

February 18, 2004

Democratic supporters of the 2002 McCain-Feingold law, which restricts political money-raising and advertising (free speech) by political parties in federal elections, are defending the free speech rights of new organizations that have been created to avoid the strictures of the law, says the Wall Street Journal.

The nation's newest political fund-raising machines are known as "527s" (after a section in the IRS code). They have raised millions of dollars to independently support candidates, and have been prominent in the Democratic presidential primaries.

Their emergence has led to some juggling of political positions:

  • Bradley Smith, chairman of the six-member Federal Elections Commission, a Republican appointee and long-time proponent of free speech, argues that the groups should be allowed to continue to raise and spend so-called soft money -- which unlike hard money contributed to candidates is not subject to FEC regulations.
  • No fewer than 324 liberal groups have opposed FEC restriction of 527s -- ironically, many of them not only supported campaign finance reform but also tried to block Smith's nomination to the FEC in 2000.
  • On the other hand, the Republican National Committee, which fought McCain-Feingold over the years, is now urging the FEC to regulate the 527s as if they were political parties.

Apart from the larger issue of regulating political speech, the McCain-Feingold ban on soft money was expressly directed at political parties, says the Journal, not the money-raising activities of interest groups, and nothing in last year's Supreme Court decision upholding that law changed that.

Far from banishing money from politics, McCain-Feingold has merely moved it out of the major parties and into the political shadows where it is less accountable. The solution is to let everyone contribute whatever they want, subject only to immediate disclosure on the Internet, says the Journal.

Source: Editorial, "Campaign Finance Follies," Wall Street Journal, February 18, 2004.

For WSJ text,,SB107706612443132169,00.html


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