|TRAFICANT, James A., Jr.,|
Tuesday, August 4, 1998
Washington, D.C. – U. S. Rep. James A. Traficant, Jr. (D–OH) last night voted against legislation to overhaul the way federal political campaigns are financed. "This bill, while well intended, is patently unconstitutional," said Traficant. "It will compromise, in a number of ways, the ability of average Americans to participate in the political arena. It will give the federal government new broad powers to control free speech. At best, it is flawed legislation that will do little to reform the campaign finance system. At worst, it is a dangerous infringement on the political freedoms that are the heart of the Constitution," said Traficant.
Last night the House continued its consideration of campaign finance reform legislation. The bill voted on last night was authored by U.S. Reps. Christopher Shays (R–CT) and Martin Meehan (D–MA). The Shays-Meehan bill, which passed on a vote of 237 to 186, changes federal campaign finance law with regard to four major issues: the ability of national political parties to raise and distribute money for party building efforts (so-called soft money), contribution limits, advertisements by independent groups that advocate certain issue positions, and political spending by labor unions and corporations.
According to Traficant, the Shays-Meehan bill contains harsh and unconstitutional controls on issue advocacy speech. The bill gives the Federal Election Commission (FEC) new and sweeping enforcement powers. It also gives the FEC the sole authority to decide what constitutes express advocacy. "Few non-profits will want to risk their tax-exempt status or incur legal expenses to engage in any form of speech that could be interpreted by the newly created ‘truth police' at the FEC to have an influence on a federal election," said Traficant.
The Shays-Meehan bill would also force groups that now engage in issue advocacy, including non-profit organizations, to create new institutional entities, namely political action committees (PAC), to legally engage in political speech 60 days before an election. The groups would also be forced to disclose or identify all contributors to the new PAC in a way never before required.
"Being forced to establish a PAC simply to comment on important campaign issues could entail a significant and costly burden for many non-profits," asserted Traficant. "Many non-profits will be forced to remain silent during the crucial last weeks of an election campaign. Under Shays-Meehan, the only information about candidates voters will receive will come mainly from candidates, PACs and the media. This is not what the founding fathers intended," noted Traficant. "The founding fathers wanted a system in which there was free, open and sometimes rollicking political debate. The Shays-Meehan bill represents an unconstitutional intrusion on the right of all Americans to engage in free speech."
Traficant also noted that the Shays-Meehan bill will deter small, low income and first time contributors through burdensome reporting requirements. The bill reduces the threshold for record-keeping of contributions and disbursements from $200 to $50. At the same time, the bill increases the aggregate limit on individual campaign contributions from $25,000 to $30,000 a year. "Campaign contributions of $50 are not corruption-level contributions," said Traficant. "The only consequence of these burdensome reporting requirements will be to discourage political participation at the grassroots level. Newcomers to the political process, students, and low income Americans would have to fill out intrusive forms just to make a modest contribution. Shays-Meehan places no new restrictions on incumbents and big donors, while making it more intimidating and burdensome for the more disenfranchised voters to participate. That's un-American," charged Traficant.2009