Lott Uses Free Speech as a Cheap Political Ploy

National Catholic Reporter, October 24, 1997 | Go to article overview

Lott Uses Free Speech as a Cheap Political Ploy


How can it happen that, as the sleaze of the Clinton White House campaign funding scandal continues to ooze out, staining an ever-widening circle of political activity, the effort to close the floodgates on political donations died a quiet death?

Sen. Trent Lott, a Mississippi Republican and majority leader, said his manipulations that killed the McCain-Feingold bill were done in the interests of the First Amendment, to preserve free speech. McCain-Feingold would have ended "soft money" donations to political campaigns and dealt with other campaign fund-raising abuses.

We saw Lott defend his free speech rationale several times on television and heard him on radio, and not once did he seem to crack a smile or lose composure, the way actors sometimes crack up when they're trying to deliver serious lines. So maybe Lott, somewhere deep inside, actually believes something of what he is saying.

What a stretch.

The simple truth is that the Republicans benefit enormously -- far more than the Democrats, even in their most shameless White House coffee-and-sleepover fundraising capers -- by the relentless flow of donations from corporations and rich individuals. The only corner of campaign corruption to benefit the Democrats is the money that pours in from labor unions, but that doesn't begin to make up the difference.

During the last election fundraising cycle, according to figures published in The New York Times, even with the White House fundraising mill running full tilt, the Republican Party won the fundraising battle $138.2 million to $123.9 million. During the first six months of this year, the Republicans have raised $21.7 million to the Democrats' $13.7.

So it isn't too difficult to work up a bit of healthy skepticism when Lott decides to wrap himself in the First Amendment.

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