In a speech at the Yale Law School Wednesday, former Whitewater independent counsel Kenneth Starr recalled a 1996 radio ad condemning an anti-affirmative action resolution.
“That ad, if it now ran, is a crime, it is a felony,” Starr said.
Starr told about 100 students that the McCain-Feingold campaign finance reforms endanger free speech and formerly accepted messages such as the radio ad. After discussing the bill and the role of money in politics, Starr answered questions for over an hour about his time as independent counsel and options for reforming campaign finance.
Best known for his controversial work during the Clinton administration, Starr is currently representing those challenging the McCain-Feingold law in court.
“The intelligentsia are increasingly worried about the criminalization of behavior that has previously been seen as acceptable,” Starr said. “We shouldn’t be having a lot of criminal indictments resulting from robust and free speech.”
Starr advocated what he called the “transparency model,” in which groups and individuals can donate as much money as they want, but their names and donations are posted on a Web site. He said this model would allow people to express their political views freely through donations but would hold politicians accountable for the people they accept money from.
Starr challenged critics of the transparency model to find a single case where a politician had changed his vote because of campaign donations.
“Let’s just see if people are buying politicians or not,” Starr said. “I think there’s less buying than you think.”
Starr said the current campaign finance reform measures actually hurt those who are already underrepresented. He mentioned members of the Congressional Black Caucus as examples of those fighting against McCain-Feingold.
“Under the current regime — any non-incumbent challenger would find it very difficult to compete effectively,” Starr said. “Some of those who are concerned about the effect on the disenfranchised are saying, ‘Let us compete in the marketplace.'”
Two audience members asked questions about Starr’s time as independent counsel during the Clinton administration. Starr said he was satisfied with the result of the investigation, but criticized his former post, saying the office was both bad policy and unconstitutional.
“The mechanism itself is a congressional dagger aimed at the heart of the president,” Starr said.
Starr said he was not surprised that only two people asked questions about the Clinton scandal, a time he jokingly called “the unpleasantness.”
“Usually I’ll get questions about the investigation,” Starr said. “But [campaign finance] is a very serious subject of debate.”
Alex Cooke LAW ’04, the president of the Yale Law Federalist Society, which sponsored the speech, said the group invited Starr because of his expertise on campaign finance reform.
“He’s a great speaker. I think a lot of people have come to know him through the Monica Lewinsky brouhaha,” Cooke said. “But he’s leading the litigation to get McCain-Feingold declared unconstitutional.”
Akash Shah ’06 said he was not satisfied with Starr’s answers about the investigation into Bill Clinton.
“I can’t help but be somewhat cynical of what he said,” Shah said. “We lived through three years of [the investigation] and he had a textbook answer to impeachment.”