The campaign finance reform sham

John Fund:

If a political gaffe consists of inadvertently revealing the truth, then Sean Treglia, a former program officer for the Philadelphia-based Pew Charitable Trusts, has just ripped the curtain off of the "good government" groups that foisted the McCain-Feingold campaign finance bill on the country in 2002. The bill's restrictions on political speech have the potential for great mischief; just last month a member of the Federal Election Commission warned they could limit the activities of bloggers and other Internet commentators.

What Mr. Treglia revealed in a talk last year at the University of Southern California is that far from representing the efforts of genuine grass-roots activists, the campaign finance reform lobby was controlled and funded by liberal foundations like Pew. In a tape obtained by the New York Post, Mr. Treglia tells his USC audience they are going to hear a story he can reveal only now that campaign finance reform has become law. "The target audience for all this [foundation] activity was 535 people in [Congress]," Mr. Treglia says in his talk. "The idea was to create an impression that a mass movement was afoot. That everywhere [Congress] looked, in academic institutions, in the business community, in religious groups, in ethnic groups, everywhere, people were talking about reform."

The truth was far different. Mr. Treglia admits that campaign-finance supporters had to try to hoodwink Congress because "they had lost legitimacy inside Washington because they didn't have a constituency that would punish Congress if they didn't vote for reform."

So instead, according to Mr. Treglia, liberal reform groups created a Potemkin movement. A study last month by the Political Money Line, a nonpartisan Web site dealing with campaign funding issues, found that of the $140 million spent to directly promote liberal campaign reform in the last decade, a full $123 million came from just eight liberal foundations. Many are the same foundations that provide much of the money for such left-wing groups as People for the American Way and the Earth Action Network. The "movement" behind campaign-finance reform resembled many corporate campaigns pushing legislation. It consisted largely of "Astroturf" rather than true "grass-roots" support.

But the results were spectacular. Not only did the effort succeed in bulldozing Congress and President Bush, but it might have played a role in persuading the Supreme Court, which had previously ruled against broad restrictions on political speech, to declare McCain-Feingold constitutional in 2003 on a 5-4 vote. "You will see that almost half the footnotes relied on by the Supreme Court in upholding the law are research funded by the Pew Charitable Trusts," Mr. Treglia boasted.

A Congressional investigation of this massive fraud should begin immediately.

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