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McCain-Feingold Reality Clashes With WSJ Narrative

The Wall Street Journal's editorial board on Wednesday leveled an oft-repeated but misleading attack on the law commonly known as McCain-Feingold. The Journal, an opponent of campaign finance reform, took a measure of satisfaction in arguing that John McCain's fundraising deficit is due to the very legislation he sponsored: 

The ultimate irony – perversity, if you're a Republican – is that the great champion for today's system is none other than John McCain. Having pushed for the government to limit money in politics, he is being outspent – and, should the polls hold, beaten – thanks in part to the laws he worked tirelessly to put on the books.

What the Journal and other drive-by critics of campaign finance reform miss is that McCain-Feingold was not really intended to limit money in politics and certainly was not intended to limit campaign contributions to candidates. The law actually doubled the maximum amount an individual could contribute to candidates, from $1,000 to $2,000 per election (a figure since adjusted for inflation to $2,300). 

What McCain-Feingold did was stop the political parties from accepting corporate or union contributions, which candidates were already prohibited from doing. An honest attack on McCain-Feingold would have to start with a claim that the country was better off with the political parties trading favors in exchange for corporate and union contributions of hundreds of thousands – and sometimes millions – of dollars (in 2002, for example, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac lavished $4.2 million in soft money on the two major parties). 

If the Journal wants to make that argument, we would welcome the debate.

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