TAKING MCCAIN-FEINGOLD TO COURT

The Supreme Court held an extraordinary four-hour session of oral arguments to consider the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act. Few press reports noted how little has changed in politics since George W. Bush signed the law a year and a half ago. Soft-money contributions to the federal political parties, which ballooned to nearly $500 million in the 2000 election, have been banned, but that hasn’t prevented everyone from Tom DeLay to Harold Ickes from forming supposedly independent committees that are expected to raise and spend hundreds of millions on the 2004 elections. Millions more will no doubt flow through state and local party committees, with the goal of affecting federal contests. Has the new law done anything to enhance the role of small contributors? In 2000 the percentage of federal campaign money raised from small donations (less than $200) shrank to 18 percent, from 31 percent in 1996. Two-thirds of Bush’s funding in the 2000 primaries came from people writing $1,000 checks. Now, individuals can give as much as $2,000 to a candidate. So far, three-quarters of Bush donors have written him $2,000 checks. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, the average contribution to major candidates for President in 2004 ranged from $598 for Dennis Kucinich to $1,520 for Bush. The Court should uphold McCain-Feingold, but only full public financing of elections can bring about real change in the campaign finance system.

STATIC ON BIG MEDIA MERGERS

From John Nichols: Since FCC chair Michael Powell forced through six rule changes favored by big media on June 2, the House has voted 400 to 21 for a bill that would overturn a rule permitting one company to own television stations reaching 45 percent of US homes, and Senate committees have moved to gut that rule and one that would allow a single company to buy up the major newspapers and television and radio stations in a city. With millions of Americans telling Congress to reverse all the rules–more than 200,000 people signed a “roll back the rules” petition promoted by Free Press and MoveOn.org over two days in early September–the fight will intensify now that Congress is back in session. Foes of the rule changes found an ally in the Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit. On September 3 a three-judge panel unanimously stayed implementation of Powell’s new rules, “pending thorough and efficient judicial review.”

THE JOB DRAIN

Matt Bivens writes: In February the White House Council of Economic Advisers predicted that tax cuts would create 510,000 jobs by the end of this year. According to the Economic Policy Institute, instead of gaining 344,000 jobs in August, we lost 93,000. “Since the recession began 29 months ago in March 2001, 3.3 million private sector jobs have disappeared,” EPI notes. “This is the largest sustained loss of jobs since the Great Depression.” The good news: The Bush Administration is not insensitive. It will fund free universal healthcare for 25 million citizens–Iraqi citizens, that is [see Bivens’s “The Daily Outrage” on our website at www.thenation.com].

ALL BOOKED UP

John Hess, author of My Times: A Memoir of Dissent, was cheered by so many lefty titles on the New York Times bestseller list: Al Franken’s Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them, Joe Conason’s Big Lies, Jim Hightower’s Thieves in High Places. Paperbacks: Barbara Ehrenreich’s Nickel and Dimed and Barbara Kingsolver’s Small Wonder. The only hard-right title on the nonfiction list is Ann Coulter’s Treason–if you can call it nonfiction.

NEWS OF THE WEAK IN REVIEW

Jeff Holmstead, the former industry lobbyist who’s in charge of the EPA’s office of air and radiation, let his employees leave early for Labor Day in recognition of a week’s “good work”– issuing a rule preventing power plant owners from having to upgrade pollution equipment, relaxing air-pollution standards and denying a petition to regulate CO2 emissions from cars and trucks. “I hope you all enjoy your much-deserved long weekend,” Holmstead said. (Al Kamen, the Washington Post)