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Thursday, September 2, 2004
Campaign Finance: Last Day for What?

There's a lot of chatter just now about the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act (BCRA) of 2002, otherwise known as the McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform bill. I keep hearing that BCRA bans parties from running ads endorsing their candidates for federal office within 60 days of the election, but not from running ads attacking opponents during that period. If that's true, today - 61 days from the November 2 election - is the last day for parties to run ads favoring their candidates.

That sounds pretty stupid, so I reasoned (a) it could be true, given that we're dealing with the government; and (b) I'd better do a little research before I put my foot in my mouth. So I Googled my way around the World Wide Web for a while, and here's what I think I learned.

  1. BCRA regulates "electioneering communications," which are television or radio broadcasts which refer to a clearly identified candidate for federal office, are distributed within 60 days of a federal election (or within 30 days of a primary election), and which, in the case of House and Senate races, are targeted to the relevant electorate.
  2. Within that 60-day threshold, corporations and labor organizations cannot make or finance "electioneering communications." However, their Political Action Committees (PACs) can.
  3. BCRA is aimed at "soft money," contributions which have been unregulated and unreported as campaign contributions. Candidates and political parties and committees can still run such ads using "hard money," or in other words contributions which are subject to FEC limits and reporting requirements.
  4. So-called "527" organizations may make "electioneering communications," subject to disclosure requirements, but may not receive corporate or labor funds to do so.

Frankly, in itself it all seems rather inoffensive to me; I'm not at all sure I see how this encroaches on free speech in a meaningful way. However, I think anyone who claims to be surprised that the soft money didn't just disappear, but found its way by the truckload to the 527s, is either too naive or too duplicitous to be trusted with a driver's license, let alone public office. And I do wonder if this law and the Supreme Court's decision in McConnell v. FEC, which upheld the law, are not a significant step toward further regulation that will seriously infringe on free speech.

I may have to quit referring to this bill sarcastically as the Incumbent Protection Act of 2002. If someone wants to enlighten me further, you know where to find me. But for now I don't see what all the hubbub is about.


My best source for this is a brochure from the Federal Election Commission on electioneering communications. See also their main page about BCRA.

Among the other materials I read, the following were interesting and fairly clear:

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