Thompson’s testing days are over and he is now into the pool and some hot water over his comments today on McCain Feingold. Fred Thompson went on Laura Ingraham’s radio show this morning.(H/T Politico.) She is no thrower of softballs and asked Thompson about his support of McCain Feingold, and specifically the issue ad ban that was an anathema to most conservatives and First Amendment activists. Thompson began to talk about soft money but Laura would not let him dodge. He seemed to deny that the issue ad ban was a big deal at the time and contended “they” put it in the bill, although conceding he voted for it. I asked Club for Growth which has been relentless in their opposition to restrictions on free speech, about Thompson’s remarks. ( His record in this regard was a significant blemish in their otherwise mostly positive White Paper on Thompson published this week.) David Keating, Club for Growth’s Executive Director, about Thompson’s remarks. He said: “Everyone hated the original bill’s ban on speech by citizen groups, save for the campaign finance nut groups and politicians.” As to the specifics, he provided this detailed rebuttal to Thompson’s comments:
“Fred Thompson had an extended chat with Laura Ingraham and at about 9:45 into the program the conversation turns to the McCain Feingold assault on free speech.Thompson says at about the 10:55 mark ‘the issue ad thing wasn’t even being discussed as far as I remember when the first debates were had and the first bill was proposed. It was a matter of whether you wanted to get rid of soft money.’ At 11:45, he says ‘they added on something that was a mistake — and that is the issue ad that you were talking about, and I voted for all of it. So I support the first part [the ban on soft money to parties], but I don’t support that.’
Fact: He did support it. You can debate about what you support when you vote for a bill on final passage that has warts, but when you sponsor a bill, it’s your work. No one makes you sponsor your own bill. Take a look for yourself at title II of S. 27, the so-called ‘Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2001.’ Title II has limits on issue ads. Now the late Sen. Wellstone offered an amendment, and made the provision even worse. But the original bill still prevented groups like the NRA, NTU and the Sierra Club from running ads to lobby Congress or candidates without going through a ridiculous set of hoops to do it.Fred, yes it was a mistake. But it was your mistake. Admit you were wrong. Call for repeal of this provision that tramples on the First Amendment.”
Thompson of course did not just vote for or sponsor or act as Senate floor manager for the bill. He submitted a brief to the Supreme Court defending not only the soft money ban but the issue ad ban. See here. (Keating points out that the lion share of the brief was on soft money although he urges Thompson to “go back and see what he did. Admit the error, and call for a correction. And file an amicus brief on the side of free speech in the next legal challenge to this horrible provision.”)
As Keating put it, the “abysmal idea of regulating citizen speech” is a problem for conservatives. Thompson’s first crack at the answer is not going to suffice.