Agenda driven

By ERNEST F. HOLLINGS, former U. S. senator


APRIL 4, 2014 -- Maurice Stans was Chairman of the Finance Committee for the Nixon for President in 1968. George Steinbrenner came in my Senate office in 1968 and said: "I have a shipping company in Tampa that's done work for the government. The Stans' Committee told me I had to raise $1 million for Nixon's election or else I wouldn't get the $10-$15 million owed me if Nixon was elected President."

Other Senators experienced the cash and carry method of Stans' fundraising and our intent was to prevent buying the office. In 1971, Congress, in a bipartisan vote, limited spending. The law was flawed so we voted again in 1973 to limit spending in campaigns - so much per registered voter.

The Supreme Court in Buckley vs. Valeo upheld the constitutionality on the limitations of contributions for candidates for federal office but found unconstitutional limitations on expenditures by candidates from their personal funds. The Court made the fatal mistake of creating "political speech" protected by the First Amendment by finding "…virtually every means of communicating ideas in today's mass society requires the expenditure of money". The Court didn't understand the cost of spending in campaigns. Now the present Supreme Court is agenda driven to determine that the rich can buy the office by elaborating on the original mistake of Buckley. This is the opposite intent of the bipartisan Congress in 1971 and 1973.

Having served in public office for 52 years and elected seven times to the United States Senate, I know about spending in campaigns. Contributions is spending- not political speech. Hiring a political consultant; opening a campaign office; hiring a staff; yard signs; billboards; newspaper ads, etc. all are spending, not political speech. President Obama, sending Messina into Ohio for three years to organize his reelection, when Ohio had a Republican Governor, Legislature, Speaker of the House of Representatives and U.S. Senator, and carrying Ohio is spending - not political speech. Now, the agenda driven Supreme Court, all appointed, thinks it knows better how to limit spending in campaigns than Congress, who all sought office by spending. In short, the agenda driven Court, as Justice Thomas has signaled, is determined to remove all limits so that buying the office will be required rather than running for office.

Last year a candidate against Lindsey Graham asked for my advice. I immediately queried: "Can you raise $5million in South Carolina?" She answered: "Five million, you're crazy!" I said: "You've got to raise at least $5 million to show that you are electable before the Washington Committees come in for the other $5 million. It's going to be at least a $10 million race". Money eliminated this candidate. Campaigns cost too much. My friend George Will keeps reminding that we spend $2 billion on Easter candy. The 2012 campaigns are estimated to have cost $6 billion. The McCutcheon decision now allows unlimited spending by the rich to buy the office - exactly the opposite of the intent of Congress in 1971 and 1973.

Since the Buckley decision, Congress has struggled for years to limit spending in campaigns by McCain-Feingold, public financing, and even a constitutional amendment to empower Congress to limit or control spending in federal campaigns. I introduced such an amendment. In the '80s, the Governor's Conference called and asked that I include the states. I did, receiving a bipartisan majority vote but not the 2/3 required for a Joint Resolution. Before I retired, I tried to get a vote on my constitutional amendment 2002, 2003 and 2004 - to no avail. The Leadership wanted to call a flag burning amendment and asked me to withhold my amendment. I refused and no Joint Resolution was called for consideration. The Senators have a six year advantage to fundraise and don't want to lose their advantage; don't want to get caught voting against such a constitutional amendment.

Amending the Constitution is the only solution to cleaning up this corruption. Five of the last six amendments to the Constitution deal with elections. This amendment is more important than any of the five. It will take time but the states are ready to ratify. Only Congress and the Court continue this corruption.

Senator Hollings of South Carolina served 38 years in the United States Senate, and for many years was Chairman of the Commerce, Space, Science & Transportation Committee. He is the author of Making Government Work (University of South Carolina Press, 2008).

© 2014, Ernest F. Hollings. All rights reserved. Contact us for republication permission.

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Ernest F. Hollings served the public for 56 years -- 38 years in the United States Senate and as South Carolina's governor, lieutenant governor and a member of the S.C. House of Representatives.

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