Keep limits off campaign funding, McCarthy urges

Thursday, November 2, 2000
Ken Paulson, Meredith McGehee

ARLINGTON, Va. — Candidates should be able to raise and spend
campaign funds generally with few legal limits, former U.S. Sen. Eugene
McCarthy said this week in a program at the Newseum, citing candidates’ First
Amendment rights.

But Meredith McGehee of Common Cause — which favors campaign
finance limits — said, “The magnitude of money (spent in elections) has
really changed,” creating a system in which special-interest groups play a big
role in influencing the decisions of Congress, and in which money is the major
factor in candidate visibility.

McCarthy, McGehee, who is senior vice president for the citizens lobby
group, and journalist Tony Mauro gathered Oct. 31 to discuss a new
First Amendment
Center report, Money Talks: Campaign Finance
and the First Amendment,
written by Mauro for the center.
Kenneth Paulson, executive director of the
First Amendment Center, moderated the discussion.

The panel agreed that current reform moves were driven by the dramatic
increases in the amounts of money spent on state and federal campaigns in the
last decade. But McCarthy and McGehee differed on the need for finance

McCarthy, 84, was a senator from Minnesota in 1967 when he ran
unsuccessfully for the Democratic presidential nomination – and in the
process galvanized opposition to the Vietnam War and helped stop then-president
Lyndon Johnson’s reelection effort. In 1976, he was a plaintiff in a landmark
Supreme Court case — Buckley v.
— that helped set current election laws, which limit

Candidates actually have an obligation to spend as much as they can to
insure that their message reaches the public, McCarthy said. And to do that,
they need to be able to raise funds freely – perhaps only with limits on
how much corporations and unions can supply directly, he said. Additional
restrictions may violate candidates’ rights to free speech, assembly and
petition, he said.

“The whole democracy depends on the First Amendment,” McCarthy

Eugene McCarthy

However, McGehee later noted, the large amounts of money that are
being raised and spent by candidates and other groups in the current campaign
show that “it’s the powerful interests that are having all the speech, while
average citizens are being drowned out.” She called for laws that balance
free-expression rights and the impact of money and large donations on the
democratic process.

Mauro said campaign finance reform would be a hot issue in the new
Congress regardless of which presidential nominee is elected: Both Vice
President Al Gore and Republican nominee Gov. George W. Bush are pledged to
making changes in the way campaigns are funded.

Mauro notes in Money Talks
that Gore’s proposals are the most extensive: Gore told the Democratic National
Convention that he likely would propose an end to “soft money” contributions to
political parties, improved disclosure of lobbying and issue advertisements,
free air time for candidates and what he terms a “Democracy Endowment” to
finance campaigns from tax-deductible donations from the public.

Mauro said in the discussion, “We may all agree that the system is out
of control. But there are some people who think it’s out of control because of
the Supreme Court’s ‘balancing act’ in Buckley v. Valeo.”

In that decision, Mauro said, “The court said limits on spending by
candidates are unconstitutional, but limits on contributions by people to
candidates are constitutional. So what you have is this unlimited spending by
candidates and it creates the need for more and more money to come in. Some
people that this is the worst of all worlds.”

Money Talks is the first of
an ongoing series called “First Reports.” Produced by the First Amendment
Center, the series will provide in-depth analysis and background on
contemporary First Amendment issues.

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