March 29, 2001
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A dispatch from Washington in today's New York Times illustrates the frenzy into which the newspaper's news department has been whipped in its support for the McCain-Feingold restrictions on freedom of speech, freedom of assembly and freedom to petition. The news article begins: "WASHINGTON, March 28 -- The names of the 1,000 people on the guest list for tonight's huge political dinner were a secret. So were the identities of the large corporations and organizations that employ them. The party organizers refused to say how much money the wealthier guests had donated in exchange for their tickets."
The article, about a fundraiser for the National Republican Congressional Committee, reports that "much of that money came in the form of soft money," which the newspaper described as "unregulated, unrestricted political contributions."
The article also mentions a similar fundraiser held by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and noted that "neither committee would make its guest list public."
The sum of the impression left by the article is that there are "secret," "unregulated," multimillion-dollar donations flowing into the American political system. That is just a flat-out falsehood.
In fact, all contributions to party committees such as the NRCC or the DCCC in amounts greater than $50 are required by federal regulations to be disclosed to the Federal Election Commission. The FEC makes these reports, with the names and addresses of the donors and the amounts they have given, available to the public, and even to New York Times reporters, in its reading room in Washington D.C. and on the Internet at www.fec.gov. The reading room even sometimes is open on the weekends and late at night soon after filing deadlines. There is a lag time of a few months between the fundraising event and the disclosure, but for the Times to describe these contributions as "secret" or "unregulated" is just false. There's no secret. The FEC is a large, tax-funded regulatory agency that exists to enforce these regulations against secret donations. Donors to political parties are even asked to name their employers so that "the identities of the large corporations and organizations that employ them" will be available to those seeking to analyze the possible connections between contributions and federal policies.
If the Times is too impatient to wait for disclosure through the existing FEC process, the newspaper might have devoted some of its massive reportorial resources to finding someone at the NRCC or the DCCC to leak the newspaper a list of those who attended the fundraiser. Probably any of the 1,000 dinner guests could have snagged it off a table being staffed by some intern.
The underlying assumption that the government should force the public disclosure of the names of adherents to a political party, or supporters of such a party, is itself arguably suspect. The Times has been agitating in its news and editorial columns for years against the efforts during the Cold War to make American Communists and former Communists "name names" of members of the Communist Party, U.S.A. Now the newspaper is complaining, in a news article, that federal law does not force the political parties to name names quickly enough. And the Communist Party, U.S.A. was a front for an evil enemy regime in the midst of a Cold War. Now the New York Times wants to impose more government regulations on the Democratic and Republican parties in peacetime than it supported on the Communists in wartime.
Successful: A front-page dispatch from Jerusalem in today's New York Times about Arab terrorist attacks against Israeli Jews reports, "The suicide bombing today was the third successful bombing in two days." This could just be a matter of taste, but the word "successful" is slightly jarring and probably inappropriate in this context.
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