Bush: Campaign Finance Flip-Flop
August 23, 2004
THE PRESIDENT: I'm denouncing all the stuff being on TV of the 527s. That's what I've said. I said this kind of unregulated soft money is wrong for the process. And I asked Senator Kerry to join me in getting rid of all that kind of soft money, not only on TV, but used for other purposes, as well. I, frankly, thought we'd gotten rid of that when I signed the McCain-Feingold bill. I thought we were going to, once and for all, get rid of a system where people could just pour tons of money in and not be held to account for the advertising. And so I'm disappointed with all those kinds of ads. ...
THE PRESIDENT: That means that ad, every other ad.
Q Would you encourage Republicans not to give to --
THE PRESIDENT: Absolutely. I don't think we ought to have 527s. I can't be more plain about it. And I wish -- I hope my opponent joins me in saying, condemning these activities of the 527s. It's the -- I think they're bad for the system. That's why I signed the bill, McCain-Feingold. I've been disappointed that for the first six months of this year, 527s were just pouring tons of money, billionaires writing checks. And I spoke out against them early. I tried to get others to speak out against them, as well. And I just don't -- I think they're bad for the system. ...
Well, that's pretty clear. Bush signed McCain-Feingold specifically to get rid of people's ability to start groups like 527s. Which would be a great defense. If it were true. Here's Bush on the day he signed McCain-Feingold into law. First, his statements in support of the bill as they relate to contributions not made directly to candidates and parties, followed by his concerns about the legislation's shortcomings [emphasis mine]:
March 27, 2002
[FOR]...The bill reforms our system of financing campaigns in several important ways. First, it will prevent unions and corporations from making unregulated, "soft" money contri-butions -- a legislative step for which I repeatedly have called.
Often, these groups take political action without the consent of their members or shareholders, so that the influence of these groups on elections does not necessarily comport with the actual views of the individuals who comprise these organizations. This prohibition will help to right that imbalance.
...Third, this legislation creates new disclosure requirements and compels speedier compliance with existing ones, which will promote the free and swift flow of information to the public regarding the activities of groups and individuals in the political process.
[AGAINST]...However, the bill does have flaws. Certain provisions present serious constitutional concerns. In particular, H.R. 2356 goes farther than I originally proposed by preventing all individuals, not just unions and corporations, from making donations to political parties in connection with Federal elections.
I believe individual freedom to participate in elections should be expanded, not diminished; and when individual freedoms are restricted, questions arise under the First Amendment.
I also have reservations about the constitutionality of the broad ban on issue advertising, which restrains the speech of a wide variety of groups on issues of public import in the months closest to an election. I expect that the courts will resolve these legitimate legal questions as appropriate under the law.
As a policy matter, I would have preferred a bill that included a provision to protect union members and shareholders from involuntary political activities undertaken by their leadership. ...
Bush's statements do not call for stopping independent groups making issue ads, in fact that would be against the tone of his whole argument. His only expressed positions regarding contributions to groups operating independent of campaigns was that they should a) not support political actions that did not reflect the views of their members, and b) disclose their contributions with all possible speed. He unambiguously questions whether it's in keeping with the First Amendment to restrict groups and individuals from running issue ads near election time.
Not one single word supports the idea that he opposed 527s in principle at the time, and it would be very hard to argue that today's 527s don't reflect the views of their members and contributors. But this is an even larger step removed from candidate Bush's stand on campaign finance reform, as noted and quoted by none other than Rich Lowry in the very conservative National Review. This is candidate Bush talking with George Will during an appearance on ABC News' This Week [emphasis mine]:
January 23, 2000
GEORGE F. WILL: I want to see if you agree with those who say it would be bad for the First Amendment? I know you're not a lawyer, you say that with some pride, but do you think a president, and we've got a lot of non-lawyer presidents, has a duty to make an independent judgment of what is and is not constitutional, and veto bills that, in his judgment, he thinks are unconstitutional?
GOV. BUSH: I do.
WILL: In which case, would you veto the McCain-Feingold bill, or the Shays-Meehan bill?
BUSH: That's an interesting question. I — I — yes I would. The reason why is two — for one, I think it does respe — res — restrict free speech for individuals. As I understand how the bill was written, I — I - I think there's been two versions of it, but as I understand the first version restricted individuals and/or groups from being able to express their opinion. . . .
Usually, when the right debates itself in news articles as though they provided some kind of balance, they fail utterly. In this case, it's hard to think of a position on this issue that Bush hasn't taken in the last four years.
Also, I found this campaign finance classroom module on PBS. It's an educational supplement on the funding of political campaigns that looks interesting, and which I hope I'll have time to review in more detail.