For those of us who care about campaign finance reform, the enactment of the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002 (BCRA, also known as "McCain/Feingold" after its Senate sponsors) was not the end of our concerns and efforts. After many years of advocacy, seven years of legislation and litigation, a landmark decision by the Supreme Court and the demonstrated success of the Reform Act in practice, we now find ourselves at a rare moment of opportunity.
Why Reform Matters
Americans have long viewed the purchase of influence and access as a form of public corruption that Congress is constitutionally empowered to stop. Propelled by that principle, Congress has established restrictions on the role of corporations and labor unions in federal elections. The animating belief is that the public actions of these organizations simply reflect economic power, not necessarily the views of citizens, including individual corporate stockholders or union members.
To this end, Congress banned corporate expenditures in federal candidate elections in 1907, and forbade such union participation in 1947.
As we know, these foundational principles unraveled in the '80s and '90s. Helped along by an ineffectual FEC, the political parties created a loophole that allowed vast amounts of corporate and union money into federal elections. As a result, despite the bans that had long been in place, we had a tidal wave of so-called "soft money" overwhelm our federal elections. And there was overpowering evidence that this money was doing precisely what contribution limits existed to prevent: purchasing access and legislative favors.
Against that backdrop, after seven years of effort, Congress finally closed these loopholes for corporate and labor money with passage of BCRA. The new law forbids federal officials and candidates and party officials from soliciting or spending soft money. It also prohibits corporations--including most nonprofits--from using soft money to run broadcast advertisements mentioning a federal candidate in that candidate's electorate within a narrow window of 30 days of a primary election or 60 days of a general election.
In the 2004 election cycle, BCRA completed its first test. The law clearly achieved its straightforward goal of severing the corrupting nexus between federal and party officials on the one hand, and those who were exchanging soft money checks for access on the other. That activity is simply no longer taking...