Letter in the Philadelphia Daily News, Tue, Oct. 19, 2004

More problems than just 527s

By Maxim Lott

IT WAS AN attempt to keep money out of politics by doing away with the unlimited "soft money" donations. But the McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform failed in this objective. Can it be fixed and made effective? Should it be?

The biggest "loophole" comes in the form of "independent" groups known as 527s, which are responsible for many attack ads. They also fund questionable voter-registration campaigns. Many counties around the nation now report having more registered voters than people who are eligible.

Since the passage of McCain-Feingold, 527s have become the most convenient way for rich donors to support political causes. George Soros, who has given millions to moveon.org and other anti-Bush 527s, is the most notable example.

Should we simply restrict 527s? President Bush recently joined with John McCain and others in a lawsuit to regulate the groups. But let us first envision some of the other loopholes that might become evident if 527s were eliminated.

Media outlets are unaffected by the regulations. They can report news with a slant and favor one candidate over another, just as they always could. Meanwhile, McCain-Feingold has banned independent groups from running ads about a candidate 60 days before an election. Yet what prevents these disenfranchised groups from getting their own media outlet? The NRA plans to do just that, since they cannot otherwise be heard during the 60 days running up to an election.

If we restrict 527s, should we attempt to fix this "loophole" as well? Is it possible? There is no way (without revamping the First Amendment) for the government to distinguish between "legitimate" and "political advertisement" media outlets.

When Hillary Clinton came out with her book, "Living History," for example, her publisher spent millions promoting the book - essentially aiding Clinton's future political career.

Instead of trying to patch up a law of questionable constitutionality, we should realize it's just not worth keeping.

Maxim Lott, Swarthmore


Johnlott.org (description of book, downloadable data sets, and discussions of previous controversies)

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List of my Op-eds

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Appalachian law school attack

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Lyonette Louis-Jacques's page on Firearms Regulation Worldwide

The End of Myth: An Interview with Dr. John Lott

Cold Comfort, Economist John Lott discusses the benefits of guns--and the hazards of pointing them out.

An interview with John R. Lott, Jr. author of More Guns, Less Crime: Understanding Crime and Gun Control Laws

Some data not found at www.johnlott.org:

Updated Media Analysis of Appalachian Law School Attack

Since the first news search was done additional news stories have been added to Nexis:

There are thus now 218 unique stories, and a total of 294 stories counting duplicates (the stories in yellow were duplicates): Excel file for general overview and specific stories. Explicit mentions of defensive gun use increase from 2 to 3 now.

Journal of Legal Studies paper on spoiled ballots during the 2000 Presidential Election

Data set from USA Today, STATA 7.0 data set

"Do" File for some of the basic regressions from the paper