McCain‐​Feingold Will Hurt Democrats – And They Know It

This article first appeared in USA Today, March 16, 2001.
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For years, congressional Democrats have loved playing "heads,I win; tails, you lose" with the regulation of soft money.

The Republicans raised more soft money, so if a ban on such fundsbecame law, the Democrats got better off. Conversely, if Republicansstopped restrictions in the Senate, the Democrats could claimcredit for supporting a noble cause (and blame the Republicansfor being "corrupt").

Now the game has changed. "Heads, I win; tails, you lose" hasturned into "watch what you wish for; you might get it."

Sen. John McCain's proposed ban on soft money may become law.The Democrats are becoming worried. Here's why:

In the 2000 election, the Democrats drew even with the Republicansin soft-money fundraising. They still lag behind in raising fundsregulated by federal law (so-called "hard money") and have noreal prospect of catching up. The Republicans are simply too goodat raising small donations.

Sen. John Breaux, D-La., concludes that McCain's bill will create"an unlevel playing field." He's right.

But that's not the end of the bad news for Democrats. McCain'sbill shuts out labor-union TV and radio ads for the last 60 daysbefore an election. Labor unions may be declining in numbers,but their focused and ruthless media campaigning is a major Democraticweapon. Democrats in close elections need that weapon in 2002and beyond.

Apart from practical politics, Democrats may suspect that McCain'sban on soft money is a sham. McCain claims a ban would get thespecial interests out of politics. Seasoned Democrats realizethat far from disappearing, soft money will simply go to interestgroups and their media campaigns in 2002.

Yes, the very interest groups Sen. McCain wants to drive out ofpolitics.

Congressional Democrats should find a new game to play. Insteadof "watch what you wish for," they might try "doing well bydoing right." More than a few Senate Democrats know that a banon soft money would hurt their party and the nation. In the nextfew weeks, they can help their party and the country by stoppingMcCain's bill.