Good luck removing the money out of politics.Democrats in Congress owe Federal Election Commission Chairman Bradley Smith an apology. The man they once called "Dracula" and tried to banish from Washington may now save their ability to keep raising millions of dollars in "soft money" to defeat President Bush this November. And properly so.
The FEC meets today to consider whether to rein in the nation's newest political fund-raising machines, known in Beltway parlance as "527s" (after a section in the IRS code). The 2002 campaign-finance "reform" has handcuffed political parties, so these groups have become everyone's favorite new outlet for raising unlimited cash for advertising and political activities. Liberal activists have exploited the 527 trend first, with George Soros and other high rollers pledging millions to a network of groups that amounts to a shadow Democratic Party.
All of which has made for some amusing, and embarrassing, reversals of principle. Democrats such as Nancy Pelosi, who for years have denounced the "corruption" of large political contributions, have suddenly discovered an intimate connection between financial donations and free speech. Liberal pundits who have devoted careers to taking dictation from Common Cause by denouncing fat cat donors are suddenly mum about 527s.
Republicans are hardly any better. After staking a claim for free speech as they fought McCain-Feingold over the years, the Republican National Committee is now suddenly urging the FEC to regulate the 527s as if they were political parties. GOP lawyers are endorsing a draft opinion by the FEC general counsel that advocates doing precisely that. This hypocrisy might help them during this election cycle, but sooner or later Republicans might well need their own 527s.
About the only honorable man in this political bordello is Mr. Smith. A Republican appointee and long-time proponent of free speech, the FEC Chairman is sticking to his long-held beliefs, arguing that the groups should be allowed to continue to raise and spend "soft money." Mr. Smith's views raise the chances that the six-person FEC will do the right thing.