Before Judging Janet Reno, Take a Look at These 'Laws'

By Askin, Frank | The Christian Science Monitor, December 31, 1997 | Go to article overview
Save to active project

Before Judging Janet Reno, Take a Look at These 'Laws'


Askin, Frank, The Christian Science Monitor


To give Attorney General Janet Reno her due, figuring out what is legal and illegal under the melange of federal campaign finance laws and their judicial interpretation is no piece of cake.

Take a concept as straightforward as a political contribution. The law says that no person can contribute more than $1,000 to a candidate for federal office in an election cycle - and nothing at all to a presidential candidate in a general election who has accepted public financing. The law even makes it clear that "contributions" include in-kind contributions - equipment, space, or transportation, for example.

Sounds simple enough. But the law isn't always what it says it is - it's what the courts say it is. And courts interpret laws not merely according to the written word, but in contemplation of constitutional constraints, legislative intent, and, occasionally, the judges' own predilections. And so it turns out that there are many ways to contribute money that are not "contributions" at all. For example, a federal candidate might consider it a great contribution to his campaign if I buy a costly full-page ad in The New York Times. If I have done this on my own, without consulting the candidate's campaign, I have made an "independent expenditure" that Congress can't prohibit because of the First Amendment's guarantee of free speech. Paying for the ad with a corporate check is a different story. Business corporations can't even make independent expenditures from their treasuries - a proposition once upheld by a US Supreme Court 5-to-4 vote. But if that ad removes the words of entreaty to vote for the candidate, it is probably unimpeachable "issue advocacy." In my corporate capacity, I can also appeal to all the members of my protected class (shareholders and management personnel) to contribute as much as $1,000 apiece to any corporation's separate, segregated fund, or political action committee (PAC) - which can then contribute up to $5,000 to my candidate as well as engage in other independent expenditures and issue advocacy to support a candidate. I can also contribute up to $20,000 to my candidate's political party in the expectation that the party will use the money for his or her benefit. The party has its own limit on how much it can contribute or spend in coordination with any particular candidate, but the Supreme Court recently declared that a party can spend all it wants in support of a candidate's campaign so long as it does so independently of the candidate and his or her campaign staff.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
Loading One moment ...
Project items
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited article

Before Judging Janet Reno, Take a Look at These 'Laws'
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

While we understand printed pages are helpful to our users, this limitation is necessary to help protect our publishers' copyrighted material and prevent its unlawful distribution. We are sorry for any inconvenience.
Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.

Are you sure you want to delete this highlight?