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McCain-Feingold Reality Clashes With WSJ Narrative

The Wall

Street Journal‘s editorial board on Wednesday leveled an oft-repeated but

misleading attack on the law commonly known as McCain-Feingold. The Journal, an opponent of campaign finance

reform, took a measure of satisfaction in arguing that John McCain’s

fundraising deficit is due to the very legislation he sponsored: 

The ultimate irony – perversity, if

you’re a Republican – is that the great champion for today’s system is none

other than John McCain. Having pushed for the government to limit money in

politics, he is being outspent – and, should the polls hold, beaten – thanks in

part to the laws he worked tirelessly to put on the books.

What the Journal and other drive-by critics of campaign

finance reform miss is that McCain-Feingold was not really intended to limit money in

politics and certainly was not intended to limit campaign contributions to

candidates. The law actually doubled the maximum amount an individual could

contribute to candidates, from $1,000 to $2,000 per election (a figure since

adjusted for inflation to $2,300). 

What McCain-Feingold did was stop the political parties

from accepting corporate or union contributions, which candidates were already

prohibited from doing. An honest attack on McCain-Feingold would have to start

with a claim that the country was better off with the political parties trading

favors in exchange for corporate and union contributions of hundreds of

thousands – and sometimes millions – of dollars (in 2002, for example, Fannie

Mae and Freddie Mac lavished $4.2 million in soft money on the two major


If the Journal wants to make that argument, we would welcome

the debate.