02/18/05 — Reform. Look out! There’s that word again.

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Reform. Look out! There’s that word again.

A couple of years ago, Congress weakened the right to free speech by passing the McCain-Feingold Act.

The purpose was campaign “reform.”

Reform. That’s one of the most misappropriated words in the language. When a politician tells you something needs to be “reformed,” roll your eyes and walk away.

When something is really reformed, it is improved. Much of what passes for reform in government doesn’t improve anything.

Anyone who was not living on Mars during 2004 knows that the McCain-Feingold campaign-reform law didn’t clean up election campaigns. It limits our ability to campaign for the candidate of our choice as an election approaches — which is just the time when people would be listening. It seeks to inhibit the kind of robust debate that should be allowed on issues and candidates. But it doesn’t make the campaigns any nicer.

The McCain-Feingold law forces private companies, labor unions and non-profit organizations to pay for “electioneering communications” through political finance committees, called PACs, as elections draw near, and the federal government limits the amount that they can give to the committees.

It’s downright un-American. The First Amendment states clearly that “Congress shall make no law ... abridging the freedom of speech ...” If the McCain-Feingold law doesn’t abridge free speech, it is hard to imagine what would.

The courts have made the politically correct choice to let it stand, however, and the next-best thing to having it declared unconstitutional is to pass another law repealing its most objectionable provisions.

A Republican congressman from Maryland, Roscoe Bartlett, has introduced such a law. It’s called the First Amendment Restoration Act. Let’s hope for the best. To let the McCain-Feingold law stand would hasten the erosion of one of democracy’s most essential rights.

Published in Editorials on February 18, 2005 10:30 AM