For sale: Simple (minded) fix - Diane Wagner

I don't envy the U.S. Supreme Court its position as the ultimate authority on the McCain-Feingold Act, because whatever it decides will likely be wrong or useless.

Well, not wrong I guess since, in terms of the law, the Supreme Court is as infallible as the Pope. Ergo, whatever it decides is automatically right.

And not useless in an historical sense, in that it will show, once and for all, that our laws have become essentially meaningless.

The High Court started hearing arguments Monday on the bipartisan campaign finance reform bill that, among other things, restricts unlimited soft-money contributions to political parties.

The issue has made some strange bedfellows.

Opponents say the law unfairly restricts free speech. They include Kenneth Starr, who headed the Clinton love-affair investigation, and Floyd Abrams, known as a First Amendment knight in shining armor. The American Civil Liberties and National Rifle Association are also on board.

Supporters say it closes loopholes in current laws. Ted Olson, solicitor general under George W. Bush, and Seth Waxman, solicitor general under Bill Clinton, are defending.

I say it doesn't matter which side wins, because those who want to buy influence, and can afford it, will just find other loopholes.

Everyday working stiffs are tired of special interest (read "rich") groups getting the ear of politicians through the correct placement of wads of cash. In a country where the majority supposedly rules, the simple solution would be for everyone to stop doing it.

That's the spirit of the McCain-Feingold Act.

But you have people like the 14-year-old Georgia girl whose father convinced her to challenge the law because it counts a minor's political donations toward the limit imposed on her parents.

If that child truly believes she should have the right to contribute her own $1,000 to a politician, why was the suit her father's idea?

I'll tell you why. It's because people with wads of cash to direct to politicians are going to use any means necessary to do it, regardless of how many laws are passed.

We need to rethink our entire system of funding elections. I've pondered this idea before, and discarded it as impractical, but we have gotten so far from reality now that I think it's time to pull it out.

I can make a case for campaign contributions falling into the realm of free speech as well as the next rhetorician. But the fact remains, money is not speech. It is a tool to work your will.

What we need to do is limit each candidate to spending a certain dollar amount. Cap it, and that's it.

That not only eliminates the money-grubbing that has become nearly full-time work for our national officials, it shows voters which candidate has the best money-management skills.

Part two of the Wagner-Kamikazi finance reform act would forbid anyone from spending any outside money to support a candidate. Zip. Nada.

Where free speech would come in is in volunteer work. That's where people could go all out, on an even playing field, to show which candidate is the best liked.

The 14-year-old girl's father, for instance, would be perfectly free to make his child spend her after-school free time handing out fliers and knocking on doors. It's that simple.

Diane Wagner covers county government for the Daily Herald. She can be reached at (770) 957-9161 or dwagner@henryherald.com