Radical Reform Needed

The McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform bill prescribes an aspirin when radical surgery is what's needed. Among other things, the McCain-Feingold bill seeks to ban unrestricted "soft money" contributions to political parties and restrict advertising by advocacy groups during federal elections. Soft money emerged as a means around 26-year-old statutory limits on direct contributions to political candidates. Senator McCain and his supporters, complain that the billions of dollars going into the campaign coffers of political parties create undue influence and special favors.

Many who oppose the McCain-Feingold bill rightly point out that it poses a significant threat to our First Amendment guarantees, our rights to express ourselves in the political process. There's another issue totally lost in the debate. Let's look at it.

Which should we be more concerned about? Should it be the fact that people are willing to give money to political campaign coffers with an eye toward gaining access, influence and special favors? Or should we be more concerned that elected officials are in the business of granting special favors in exchange for campaign contributions? The McCain-Feingold bill suggests that we should be concerned with the former while ignoring the latter. An effective solution to political corruption must reduce or eliminate Congress' ability to create special privileges for one American that's denied to another American.

Here's just one egregious example of special privileges. Congress' Market Promotion Program gives private companies taxpayer dollars to advertise overseas. In 1993, Congress gave Sunkist $6.6 million, Ernest & Julio Gallo $4.9 million, the Dole Company $1.6 million, M & M Mars $1 million, Tyson Foods $800,000, and Campbell Soup more than $500,000. I'd bet my rent money that these companies made political contributions as a means to gain access and win these handouts.

What moral, legal, or constitutional principle justifies Congress giving these corporations taxpayer dollars to conduct their businesses? I can find none. The solution to this kind of political corruption is not to restrict the First Amendment rights of representatives of Ernest & Julio Gallo, Tyson Foods and Campbell Soup to make campaign contributions to whomever they wish and in the amounts they wish. The solution is to deny Congress the opportunity to grant special favors.

So here's my proposal as applied to Congress' Market Promotion Program. McCain should author a bill that says something like this: Congress shall not make overseas advertising subsidies to any American company or person unless it makes overseas advertising subsidies to all American companies and persons. Since I earn part of my living by giving lectures, such a law would mean that if Congress gave Gallo, Dole or Campbell Soup overseas advertising subsidies, it should also give me money to advertise my lectures overseas. If you had something to sell or wanted an overseas job, you'd be eligible for advertisement subsidies under the Market Promotion Program. Congress also pays people not to grow corn or raise pigs. Most Americans are neither growing corn nor raising pigs and they'd be eligible for similar payments under a law mandating that Congress treat every American equally.

Neither Senator McCain, nor any other congressman, save a precious few principled ones such as Ron Paul (R. TX) and John Shadegg (R. AZ) would ever support such a measure for at least two reasons. First, congressmen, and politicians in general, campaign on the promise that they will create handouts for one American by taking the earnings of another American. The second reason is worse: we've become a nation of thieves and support political corruption. Nineteenth century philosopher-economist Frederic Bastiat was right on the money when he said, "The State is the great fiction by which everyone seeks to live at the expense of everyone else."

Walter E. Williams
April 2, 2001
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