NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Regulations Already Discourage Grass-Roots Political Involvement

March 20, 2001

Federal Election Commission member Bradley A. Smith warns that the McCain-Feingold campaign finance bill will further discourage "the little guy" from participating in political contests. He particularly objects to a provision that -- by limiting sources of money -- restricts citizen speech critical of politicians in the 60 days prior to an election.

Who, he asks, "is looking out for the interests of the little guy, for the average American who simply wants to participate in political life?"

Smith states that the vast majority of FEC cases have little or nothing to do with political corruption -- and gives examples of how regulations already stifle campaign participation by average citizens.

  • During the last presidential campaign, when students at a law school discovered they couldn't spend more than $250 on behalf of their favorite candidate without registering as a political committee and filling out detailed reports, they abandoned their mission.
  • When a congressional candidate in Texas inadvertently failed to include a disclaimer on some of his campaign literature, the campaign's treasurer was fined $1,000.
  • Another congressional candidate was fined because her husband co-signed for a $12,000 campaign loan -- making himself responsible for half the amount and thus violating the requirement that individuals can contribute only $1,000.
  • A retired accountant who had volunteered to become a campaign's treasurer was threatened with a $7,000 fine because he had mailed the campaign's FEC report to the wrong address -- thus violating reporting requirements.

Election regulations are already having a chilling effect on unpaid volunteers who simply desire to participate in the political process. The rules are so complex and the penalties so threatening that only lawyers, operatives and political consultants will be left to participate, Smith warns. He adds that McCain-Feingold will only make matters worse.

Source: Bradley A. Smith (FEC member), "McCain-Feingold Will Hurt the Little Guy," Wall Street Journal, March 20, 2001.

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