Wednesday, August 25, 2004

McCain-Feingold and "Coordination" with candidates

Jeremy Pierce posted last night a suggestion that if President Bush were to ask "Swift Boat Veterans for Truth" to stop running their lies against John Kerry, that would constitute "coordination" with them, which would be a violation of the McCain-Feingold Act. At first I was prepared to simply offer a small laugh at a clever legal joke, but as I read on, it appeared as if he was serious. The McCain-Feingold Act, as I understand it (which is, regrettably, not very thoroughly), classifies "coordination" between certain advocacy groups and candidates for office as a "contribution" to that candidate, and therefore subject to regulation. At this stage in the game, such a contribution would be illegal. So Jeremy is suggesting that if Bush said to the Swift Boat people, "stop lying about John Kerry", this would constitute coordination, and therefore a contribution. Are we speaking the same language? If Calvin is throwing crab-apples at Suzie and his mother tells him to stop, has she coordinated with him? Common sense shows that there is obviously no coordination in these cases. So do dictionary definitions, which focus on harmonious action. A cease and desist request clearly does not qualify. Of course, lawyers sometimes define things technically and oddly. I dug into the actual act, which is not a simple thing. This is what I found:
2 U.S.C. § 441a(a)(7)(B)(ii) [E]xpenditures made by any person (other than a candidate or candidate's authorized committee) in cooperation, consultation, or concert with, or at the request or suggestion of, a national, State, or local committee of a political party, shall be considered to be contributions made to such party committee.
If the Swift Boat people were to stop airing their add at Bush's request, they wouldn't be expending at his request, they'd be ceasing to expend. So I don't see any reason to think the request would be a legal liability. Nor should it be.

1 comment:

  1. I posted the suggestion, but that doesn't mean I was endorsing it. I was talking about a government official's opinion and what followed from it.

    Your point about dictionary definitions is, of course, irrelevant. The issue wasn't about whether this is coordination in ordinary English but whether it is coordination in the legal usage that the law in question involves. You obviously know more about the law than I do, but I was simply taking what this guy said and running with it.