Introduced as a member of Sen. Mitch McConnell's (R-KY) legal "Dream Team," Judge Kenneth W. Starr discussed, among other issues, why McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform, recently signed by President George W. Bush, should be challenged in the federal courts.
"This is Venezuela," said Starr, a 24-year McLean resident, referring to the recent unrest in that South American nation, as he picked up the gavel at last Thursday morning's breakfast hosted by the Greater McLean Republican Women's Club (GMRWC) at Clyde's in McLean.
Starr spoke about national campaign finance reform, Oregon's decision regarding assisted suicide and briefly about the 2000 presidential election before a group of about 80 people.
"It's important for Americans to have a clear understanding of what the courts do — especially in light of the 2000 presidential election," said Starr. "The procedures used in the recount varied wildly from county to county and even within the same county boards. Yet, 10 years prior the court ruled a pregnant chad does not count. It was settled law," he said before launching into a more satirical thought.
"If they can't afford electronic balloting or the voters could not afford eyeglasses to read the instructions in that financially challenged Palm Beach County, tough luck," said Starr, to a round of applause from the audience.
TURNING TO A MORE current event, Starr, who graduated from Duke University Law School in 1973, commented on Oregon's assisted suicide protection. "As a matter of Constitutional law, states are able to develop their own responses to social issues — to find their own way, without federal constitutional superintendents," said Starr.
"This was a very timely talk, and interesting," said 28-year McLean resident Betty Lothschuetz. "He covered a wide spectrum of topics. The discussion of the Oregon decision was particularly interesting," she said.
"The constitutionality of the Oregon decision on assisted suicide not being a federal decision but a state decision was interesting," said seven-year McLean resident Enid Halota. "I was also very interested in his campaign finance reform answer," she said.
Starr did not attack all aspects of the 91-page statute, but instead focused on two facets — the issue advocacy ban and the ban on soft money.
The issue advocacy ban, said Starr, forbids organizations such as the ACLU or the National Right to Life, as examples, from taking out broadcast advertising 30 days prior to a primary and 60 days before a general election that specifically mentions the name of a candidate for federal office.
Such a ban involves any mention of a federal candidate whether an endorsement of a candidate or the mere encouragement of a candidate to study an issue, said Starr. The suggestion is that such a ban is a violation of the free speech aspect of the First Amendment of the US Constitution, he said.
THE BAN ON SOFT MONEY refers to when an arm of a political party, such as the Republican National Committee (RNC) or the Democratic National Committee (DNC) seeks to raise funds to contribute to campaigns or issue advocacy as well as for infrastructure of the party. Starr cited the example of the need for a group to raise money for buildings or computers or other supplies.
"I'm attacking the ban on soft money as extreme and excessive. If you're going to regulate it, limit it the way hard money is limited," said Starr. He explained that hard money is contributions to a specific candidate or political committee and they are typically limited to $1,000 per person per candidate or organization.
The $1,000 Starr mentioned was established in 1974. A $1,000 donation made during the 1976 presidential election campaign would be equivalent to a $260 contribution today, he said.
"I'd like to hear more," said nine-year McLean resident CiCi Williamson. "For the average American it's hard to understand the laws. It's good to hear someone explain the actual tenets of the law. Ninety-one pages of election reform is a lot to absorb. It would be nice to have bullet points," she said.
"Where our dollars go and how they're spent is very important to me," said three-year Falls Church resident Rice Wagner, a flight attendant and member of a union. "These are my tax dollars. I want more control over its movement. I'm concerned about the force behind union dollars. I want them [unions] to have a clear voice, but for us, rank and file, to have a say as well. By the nature of the beast things will be decided without our say. I'd like to see the little guy get a chance to be elected," said Wagner in favor of reform.