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“What’s really important,” said Bill Clinton during the 1992
Clinton-Gore presidential campaign, “is that we not permit (special
interests) to give more money than people. We should restrict the
influence of those groups.”

Now that the election is basically over we see another unkept
promise, another broken pledge. In this presidential election year more
special interest groups contributed to the Democratic Presidential
campaign than ever before and did so in huge numbers. Yet, unlike 1992
they are doing it with a technique that has come to be known as “issue
advocacy.”

Issue advocacy was born in the aftermath of the 1994 elections, when
the electorate repudiated the policies of the Clinton-Gore
administration and elected Republicans as the majority party in the U.S.
Congress. It was designed to allow advocacy groups to participate in the
1996 election campaign without forming political action committees and
spend unlimited amounts of money. It quickly became a new tool for
advocacy groups to get involved in the political process without
actually endorsing a candidate. Although the tool is no longer new, this
year it is being utilized by more and more organizations in support or
opposition to any and all candidates especially in the presidential
campaign.

Why issue advocacy rather than just creating and running an ad
supporting or opposing a candidate? The entire thrust of issue advocacy
is to circumvent current campaign finance laws. Those laws that the
current administration has already flaunted and broken, and then
vowed to “fix.”

After Republican candidate Richard Nixon became President in 1968,
the Congress, which at that time was controlled by the Democratic Party,
passed federal campaign legislation, limiting the amount of money
individuals and groups could give to federal candidates. Individuals
were restricted to $1,000 per election campaign, while corporations,
unions, and associations could only donate through the formation of
political action committees, which solicited funds and made donations to
candidates. PACs could only solicit campaign funds from limited
constituencies and had a spending limitation of $5,000 per election. The
only time that a PAC could spend more than the limit was for an
“independent expenditure,” but an independent expenditure could only be
made if there were no communication between a PAC and the candidate it
was supporting.

To stop undue corporate influence in elections, present federal
campaign laws also prohibit corporate money being spent for the purpose
of electing candidates. However, corporate money can be donated to the
National and State Committees of both the Republican and Democratic
Parties — dollars that have become known as “soft money.” In addition
the Federal Election Commission has promulgated rules upon rules that
require tremendous amounts of reporting requirements complete with
strict deadlines and prohibitive fines for any transgressions. In fact,
the only way many PAC treasurers become cognizant of all the rules is
when they break them inadvertently.

As campaigns have become more expensive, candidates have sought more
and more financial support from their advocates. At the same time,
organizations as well as candidates keep seeking ways to circumvent the
limitations of the federal campaign law — thus the appeal of issue
advocacy. Issue advocacy allows groups supporting a candidate to
participate in the political process outside the restrictions of federal
election laws and the Federal Election Commission. Thus they are able to
raise funds from anyone, spend as much as they can raise, eliminate
reporting requirements, and discuss campaign strategy with the
candidate. All political activity, which is highly restricted, when a
group runs a political ad, asks the public to vote for or against a
candidate. Issue advocacy has become the First Amendment loophole to
campaign finance law.

When the new Republican Majority took over the Congress in 1995,
labor unions, many liberals groups and the Democratic Party vowed to
retake Congress. Their weapon became issue advertising. Pro-Democratic
advocacy groups bombarded the congressional districts of newly elected
Republican representatives with negative advertising for almost the
entire two years between 1995 and 1996. The result was a loss of
Republican seats in those districts. Issue advocacy had become the
newest political bombshell.

Now we are seeing the Sierra Club, Handgun Control Inc., The Million
Mom March, the National Education Association, and even the NAACP
running issue ads costing millions of dollars against George W. Bush. Al
Gore is benefiting from many groups that couldn’t raise PAC funds, but
can solicit funds that are not regulated by federal election laws — the
very laws that Al Gore campaigned to change if and when he became
president.

The hypocrisy of those running these ads is amazing. Michael Myers,
the president and executive director of the New York Civil Rights
Coalition, formerly with the NAACP, is aghast at the brazen attitude of
Kweisi Mfume, president of the NAACP and their Board of Directors. Mr.
Myers, appearing on The O’Reilly Factor, accused the NAACP, of not only
violating their bylaws of non-partisanship, but of breaking the law in
producing their “issue ad” against George W. Bush, as they are an
organization with tax deductible status.

The ad in question uses the voice of the daughter of James Byrd, the
Texas black man, who was dragged to his death by three white
supremacists. In the ad she accuses George W. Bush of making her relive
her father’s death again because he would not support her version of
hate crime legislation. The ad caused a huge furor and the major media
replayed it on their news shows, thus giving it even more visibility.
The NAACP ad ignored the truth, focusing completely on emotion. In fact,
Gov. George Bush sought the maximum penalty for the crime and as he
stated during the second debate, the perpetrators of that heinous crime
deserved what they were given — the death sentence. Ironically the
NAACP is on record opposing the death penalty, a harsher penalty than
that in the proposed Texas hate crime legislation.

As with everything political, the excess becomes the norm. Political
candidates seek every advantage and enlist the help of their supporters.
The supporters, chafing under the restrictions of federal campaign laws,
discover a loophole and the spending spiral continues upward. Meanwhile
the hypocrites, like the current Clinton-Gore administration, call for
ever more restrictive legislation to cure the so-called “campaign
finance” problem, while the NAACP fights the death penalty on one hand,
while using the “issue” of hate crime legislation to advocate the
election of Al Gore.

After all is said and done, you can be sure that the issue of
campaign financing will be front and center during the next session of
Congress. And all those candidates, such as Hillary Clinton, who
benefited greatly from soft money and issue advocacy, will be decrying
the system as they posture about unfairness and then offer their
solution: public financing of campaigns. Then your tax dollars will fund
everyone, even those you would never vote for! It’s not about fairness;
it’s not about leveling the playing field … it’s about winning!

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