Gun Owners 1st Amnd. Rights In Peril

(Tuesday, September 30, 1997) — Last Friday, the Senate began debating so-called “campaign finance” legislation, but a vote is not expected until October 6 or 7. The legislation your Senators will be voting on would seriously hamper (if not prevent) the ability of gun groups and other political organizations to publish the anti-gun records of incumbents.

In reality, this legislation is an “Incumbent Protection” bill masquerading as campaign finance “reform.” Consider how these bills (S. 25 and H.R. 493) will seriously prevent gun owners from removing anti-gun politicians from Congress:

1. Regulate GOA’s Communications. As introduced, both the House and Senate bills would seriously hinder the ability of groups to help pro-gun candidates and to educate pro-gun voters. If a group like GOA had ever communicated with a candidate or his campaign at any time, it could possibly be barred from making independent expenditures on behalf of that candidate (section 251, H.R. 493). Such limitations on expenditures include mailings, issue (pro-gun) advertisements, or other forms of action which are not coordinated with any campaign and are therefore constitutionally protected from regulation. It is only natural for gun groups to talk to legislators favoring your gun rights. This provision would thus squelch speech and hamstring the gun lobbies that you support. Both bills would also regulate GOA’s educating of voters: GOA mailings which ask recipients to contact their congressman, and which cost in excess of $10,000, would have to be registered (sec. 241, S. 25; sec. 254 H.R. 493) — and could even be outlawed.

2. Slash the Political Power of the Pro-Gun Movement. S. 25 would ban political action committee (PAC) contributions to federal candidates (section 201). For Second Amendment groups, this ban on PACs — coupled with the elimination of independent expenditures — would outlaw virtually any involvement in the national political process.

While H.R. 493 stops just short of an outright ban (section 201), the effect of drying up seed money for challengers would be to virtually eliminate any serious challenges to well-known incumbents. Incumbents are handed over $5 million of taxpayer funds to conduct their operations (including their pro rata share of the general operations of Congress). Used effectively, these resources can be channeled into a formidable reelection effort. Without seed money from PACs, challengers will find it considerably more difficult to take on this form of taxpayer-financed publicity machine.

3. Insulate Anti-gun Incumbents. Because incumbents already have strong name recognition — and because pro-gun groups would be prohibited from being active in the political process — it would be virtually impossible to attempt to remove congressmen for their anti-gun votes.

The media would, of course, be free to continue its anti-gun drum beat. The result is that a pro-gun vote would politically jeopardize an incumbent’s political career, while an anti-gun vote would enhance it. Under these circumstances, whatever incentives there are to stand up for the Second Amendment would crumble. How long would the manufacture, importation, sale and ownership of firearms in America continue under this system?

4. Expand the power of Federal Bureaucrats. The two “Incumbent Protection” bills (S. 25 and H.R. 493) would also vest the Federal Election Commission (FEC) with new far-reaching powers in order to enforce the massively expanded prohibitions in these bills. Among other things, the FEC will be empowered to conduct random audits of gun groups (sec. 302, S. 25; sec. 301, H.R. 493), place prior restraints on political activity (sec. 303, S. 25; sec. 306, H.R. 493) and more.

Final Notes: The sponsorship of S. 25 marks an “unholy alliance” between Senators John McCain (R-AZ) and Russ Feingold (D-WI). There is a Constructive Republican Alternative Proposal (note the acronym) which will later be debated on the Senate floor. The “compromise” bill, while scaled back in some respects, will still ban or limit a lot of political activity in which citizens currently engage.

In the House: GOA earlier alerted you to a pro-gun amendment which Rep. John Murtha (D-PA) had successfully attached to the Treasury-Postal Appropriations bill. Unfortunately, this amendment, which would have protected the importation of certain semi-automatic firearms, was stripped from the bill on the House floor on September 17 without a vote. To see who betrayed gun owners, look for details in the upcoming November issue of The Gun Owners newsletter.

Notable Quotables:

* “The McCain-Feingold election-reform bill, the darling of the president and his fellow Democrats, expresses Washington’s unique approach to repentance: Instead of punishing colleagues who have broken laws with ingenuity and flair, honorables want to define old transgressions out of existence and recategorize dissent as a federal crime” — Tony Snow, nationally syndicated columnist, The Washington Times, September 22, 1997.

* “You want a definition of chutzpah? Forget the kid who killed his parents and begged for mercy because he was an orphan. Think instead about Bill Clinton demanding that Congress pass campaign-finance reform” — James Pinkerton, Newsday and Los Angeles TimesThe Washington Times, September 26, 1997. columnist, quoted in