National Review Comments On Campaign Finance Reform Law and Senator John McCain's Role

By Patrick Basham & John Samples, National Review
January 3, 2002

(Patrick Basham is senior fellow & John Samples is director of the Center for Representative Government at the Cato Institute.)

The DNC isn’t the only culprit when it comes to favoring one kind of campaign reform for itself and another for everyone else. Arizona Sen. John McCain (R.) is a skilled practitioner of this approach to campaign regulation.

McCain, the principal backer of campaign-finance reform, is also a loyal backer of Indian political causes. As a result, McCain is the number-one recipient of the political donations provided to candidates by the nation’s 550 Indian tribes. In fact, McCain receives twice the amount given to the second-highest recipient.

Under current law, a person may donate a maximum of $1,000 to a specific candidate up to an annual limit of $25,000. This is known as “hard money.” The candidate may use it directly for his own campaign. In May 2000, the FEC ruled that an Indian tribe may make the current maximum hard-money donation of $1,000 per candidate to each of the more than 500 candidates running for federal office, i.e., Indian tribes can make aggregate annual hard-money contributions in excess of $500,000.

In April, McCain’s campaign-finance bill passed the Senate and remains in legislative limbo in the House. However, if a McCain-style campaign-finance bill is eventually passed, thereby banning soft money, McCain’s favored tribes will possess a huge advantage over other Americans in exercising their right to political speech.

Curiously, this discrepancy wasn’t resolved before McCain’s bill reached the Senate floor last spring. But the senator’s senior adviser on this issue offers the reassurance that “there may be flaws that need to be rectified, but they can be handled at a later time.” Let’s not hold our collective breath on that one.