The issue ad war

The McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform measure, which Brownback once co-sponsored and now opposes, would do a couple of things to begin opening up elections to democracy: This last point is the one that rankles Brownback, and even some less-than-right-wing critics, on the grounds that it restricts free speech. But we put up with other regulations of speech -- such as not allowing political signs within a certain distance of a polling place on election day -- with good reason. And there's good reason for this, too.

Do you know the difference between a "campaign ad" and an "issue ad"? This might help. Here's an actual issue ad run by Common Cause and Campaign for America in October '97, nowhere near an election, to generate public pressure for the two senators from Kansas to support campaign finance reform:

Do you know what soft money is? Our Senator Brownback and Senator Roberts know. Soft money is the big money politicians raise from special interests ... tobacco companies, drug companies, big unions. Soft money buys access. Soft money corrupts. And unless you act now, soft money is taking your government away from you. Right now before the Senate is a campaign reform bill, the McCain-Feingold bill. It would put a stop to soft money. Unfortunately, our senators are voting to block it. Your phone call can make a difference. Call Senator Brownback, call Senator Roberts today at (202) 224-3121. That's (202) 224-3121. Tell them to support McCain-Feingold. Tell them to stop blocking reform. And ask them ... whose side are you on? Brought to you by Common Cause and Campaign for America. Call (202) 224-3121.
Erroneously, a lot of supporters of the status quo complained that this is just the kind of ad that the ad itself claims to oppose. Mike Russell, National Republican Senatorial Committee: "They're favoring laws that would limit free speech, yet they're taking advantage of the very system they want to change."

Is this accusation true? No.

Meredith McGehee, Common Cause: "There is nothing in McCain-Feingold that would prevent this kind of issue discussion. [These ads] are not within 60 days, and they are not campaign ads masquerading as issue ads."

Well put.

By the way, a week after the Common Cause/Campaign for America ad, the National Republican Senatorial Committee came back with this:

Woman: What's the definition of hypocrisy?

Man: It's a Washington lobbying outfit called Common Cause, lecturing our U.S. senators on campaign finance reform.

Woman: Just the other day, one of Common Cause's top former officials pleaded guilty to an illegal money-laundering scheme involving Teamster funds and the national Democrat Party.

Man: And Common Cause still refuses to fully disclose the vast sums of money that pass through its hands.

Woman: Now Common Cause is pushing a Democrat bill that would restrict the rights of Americans to criticize politicians on issues. It would let the federal government police your political activities.

Man: This unconstitutional power grab is opposed by everyone from the American Civil Liberties Union to the National Taxpayers Union. And, thankfully, our U.S. senators are against this bill, too.

Woman: Please call Senator Brownback and Senator Roberts at (202) 224-3121. Thank them for standing up for your constitutional rights -and against the hypocritical lobbying tactics of Common Cause.

Man: Paid for by the National Republican Senatorial Committee.

There's a blatant lie in the Republican ad's fourth sentence, by the way: "Common Cause still refuses to fully disclose the vast sums of money that pass through its hands."

The truth is:

Sources: the Kansas City Star, "Ads turn up pressure on senators / Brownback, Roberts urged to support bill on campaign finances," James Kuhnhenn, 10/16/97; "Campaign bill sparks an air war / GOP's radio spots retaliate against Common Cause's ads," James Kuhnhenn, 10/22/97
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