Please, federal courts, put the campaign finance law out of its misery before it turns our nation into either a laughingstock or a petty dictatorship.
The Federal Election Commission, which is charged with applying the ill-conceived law, has just decided that comedians, such as late-night stalwarts Dave Letterman and Jay Leno, may tell political jokes during the last 60 days of election campaigns.
Isn't that big of them? The very idea that joking about campaigns could violate the law smacks of the kind of censorship one finds in nations run by dictators. How does that jibe with assurances that campaign finance reform posed no threat to First Amendment freedoms?
Comedians may not be entirely off the hook, however. Fox News reports FEC lawyers caution that punch lines may come under scrutiny - on a quip-by-quip basis - to ensure they aren't unauthorized campaign contributions.
The more the commission digs into the new law - which doesn't actually take effect until after the Nov. 5 elections - the more ridiculous it becomes. Indeed, it would be funny if it didn't pose such a serious threat to fundamental constitutional principles.
The measure bans partisan ads by independent groups 60 days before a general election and forbids candidates or party leaders from raising soft money. If that doesn't trash First Amendment rights to free speech, what does?
Apparently, in order to safeguard some free speech rights, FEC rules will allow candidates and party leaders to make indirect appeals for soft money - they just can't ask for it directly. How difficult could it be for smart operators to find softer words to raise soft money?
Also, according to Fox News, the FEC will allow tax exempt organizations to lobby all they want during political campaigns - meaning anyone who creates a non-profit foundation may campaign as hard as they like for whomever they like right up to election day.
The authors of campaign finance reform - U.S. Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz., Russ Feingold, D-Wis., U.S. Reps. Christopher Shays, R-Conn., and Marty Meehan, D-Mass. - are already crying foul, planning to sue the FEC for misapplying the law or bringing the law back to Congress for a little fine-tuning.
This newspaper warned when the legislation finally passed that it would resolve nothing - that campaign finance reform would become an ongoing, never-ending process, like the peace process in the Middle East. The courts can't do anything to bring peace to the Mideast, but they sure can bring peace (and justice) to campaign finance reform. Just kill it.