The presidential campaign is stalled debating the inflammatory merits and demerits of the candidates’ Vietnam War service — even as America has an actual war being conducted by an actual president, George W. Bush, whose leadership the country has viewed for nearly four years. And there’s an actual challenger, Sen. John Kerry, who has a 20-year track record in the U.S. Senate. There’s plenty of substance to talk about.
More important, the target has moved to that old punching bag, free speech and campaign finance.
On Saturday, Sen. Kerry filed a suit against Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, which has been running TV ads questioning his actions in Vietnam. “(T)here is overwhelming evidence that SBVT is coordinating its expenditures on advertising and other activities designed to influence the presidential election with the Bush-Cheney campaign,” Sen. Kerry said in the complaint.
The Bush campaign on Monday dismissed the complaint as “frivolous and false” to CNN, but said it welcomed a “broader look at the so-called 527 groups,” tax-exempt organizations that engage in political activities.
It all goes back to 2002, when Congress banned the use of unregulated “soft money” by political parties and certain political groups, but that law did not address activity by 527s, named for a section of the federal tax code.
The real problem is that “Far from banishing money from politics, McCain-Feingold (the 2002 law President Bush signed) has merely moved it out of the major parties and into the political shadows, where it is less accountable,” John Fund wrote in Tuesday’s Wall Street Journal.
That’s the point. We long have favored streamlining campaign finance laws and emphasizing disclosure — contributions to a party or candidates should be immediately posted to a Web site with identification of the contributor.
Don’t limit free speech; just move its participants into the sunshine. In other words, we favor taking seriously the exact words of the First Amendment, “Congress shall make no law … abridging the freedom of speech.”