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August 26, 2005

John McCain, give me a call

Good news, everybody. I just rewrote American campaign finance law. It was hard work, but I did it. Now all I need to do is write it up in bill form and present it to John McCain, who will surely become its champion.

Ready? Here it is:

  1. All limitations on campaign contributions and expenditures are hereby repealed.
  2. If somebody paid for it, then everybody has to know who did.

That's it. Beautiful in its simplicity, isn't it?

Remove the contribution limits on corporations. They're legal persons and have interests of their own.

Remove the contribution limits on unions... but strictly enforce the Beck rights of union workers.

And for God's sake, remove the contribution limits on individuals. They're as grotesque a violation of free speech as I've ever seen. The Republicans probably won't be happy (most of the gazillionaires are Democrats), but c'est la vie.

If somebody paid for it, everybody has to know who did.

Current law, in some cases, goes well beyond this. And this leads to confusion. A lack of clarity in Congress's definition of "in-kind contribution" has led to the FEC wondering if it has been mandated to regulate blogs. And a Washington judge recently ruled that radio editorials in favor of a ballot proposition constituted a regulated in-kind contribution. The law is vague and muddled, unlike my model of clarity. In my system, if someone paid a blogger to write something, he has to put "Paid for by Someschmoe for President" on the bottom. If a radio host gets money from a campaign, he has to declare that, too. And Someschmoe Inc. and Conservative Talk Radio Corporation have to declare it as well. Simple. In the words of Brooksie from The Shawshank Redemption, easy peasy Japanesy.

But don't we already have full disclosure? Isn't that what those "I'm Joe Bumblefudge, and I approve[d] this message" are all about? What about "Game Show Hosts for Truth is responsible for the content of this advertising" (not affiliated with any campaign or campaign committee)? Isn't everything disclosed already? Isn't that what all those huge databases available on fec.gov are all about?

Hey, I thought so too.

I live in Washington's Eighth Congressional District, which comprises the affluent Seattle suburbs of Bellevue and Mercer Island, and the better-than-affluent enclaves of Yarrow Point, Clyde Hill, and Medina. Contrary to freshman Representative Dave Reichert's web page, it also includes parts of Redmond, which I and my voter registration card can attest to personally.

According to the information on my Caller ID, at 7:31 PM on August 26, I received a call from "Out of Area." I was greeted by an automated recording, which stated (to the best of my recollection) "This is the American (something) Political Survey. Please answer these two questions." Okay, I thought, I'm always happy to give my opinion. "What is your opinion of Congressman Dave Reichert? If you approve of him, press 1. If you disapprove, press 2." I dutifully pressed 1.

This was followed by a string of diatribes against Mr. Reichert, which began with "He took (twenty-something) thousand dollars from oil company lobbyists." It continued on in a fashion I can't remember, but which I presume ended with, "...and he hates babies and small puppies." So I was pissed. Someone was trying a slimy push poll on me. I disapprove of these tactics, whether they're from Democrats or Republicans. Also, I question their effectiveness... they must only work on the really stupid. When the voice finished and commanded, "If the Congressional election were today, would you vote to re-elect Dave Reichert? If you would vote to re-elect, press 1. If you would not, press 2," I went ahead and pressed 2. Maybe if they think Reichert's seat is competitive they'll waste more money on it.

As I sat there listening to the rant, I couldn't wait until the end when I would hear the legally-required disclosure of who is paying for this poll, so I could expose them on my blog. "Hey, everybody, [insert organization here] is push-polling the 8th CD!" My fingers were poised over my keyboard, Notepad at the ready, as the voice finished, "Thank you. Goodbye. *click*"

I was stunned. Even more stunned than I am when a telemarketer breaks the law by hanging up on me when I demand a written copy of his employer's do-not-call policy. A lawbreaker! And a Democrat to boot! I couldn't wait to inform the world. I was sure that Stefan Sharansky would be interested in this.

So I started to write this post. In fact, I wrote most of it. The middle has remained pretty much the same, but the beginning and the end have changed a great deal. Because just when I was just about done, I thought I'd be really smug and post a citation to the law against it. Dutifully, I surfed over to the Federal Election Commission's web site, and was stunned a second time: it isn't illegal.

The FEC's annual report, in a section titled "Legislative Recommendations" warned:

Congress might want to consider adding disclaimer requirements for so-called "push poll" activity. This term generally refers to phone bank activities or written surveys that seek to influence voters, such as by providing false or misleading information about a candidate. This practice appears to be growing.

Congress has thus far failed to act. Oh, and this was the FEC's 1996 annual report.

Someone is campaigning, is spending money to campaign, and I don't know who that is. And that's wrong.

The Push Poll Disclosure Act of 2005 languishes in the House. Call your Congressman. Dave Reichert, if you're reading this, I expect to see your name on this bill as a cosponsor soon, or maybe my answer to Question 2 will be accurate.

August 26, 2005 in Current Affairs | Permalink

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Comments

I received the same call. My response "33" (skip to end of message) "7" (message deleted). Took a couple seconds. I haven't refinanced my mortgage, enrolled at the University of Phoenix, ordered discount virility drugs or traced friends from high school either. When I voted, they recounted until I lost interest. Do you ever get the feeling that a circus someplace is missing its clowns ? Would they all fit on the Monorail ? To paraphrase the famous Furher, "Ein Volk, Ein Reich(ert), Ein Rail!"

Posted by: John McGraw | Aug 28, 2005 1:02:49 PM

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