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FEC drops appeal in Christian Coalition case

Phillip Taylor
First Amendment Center

10.11.99

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The Federal Election Commission has dropped its federal lawsuit that charged the Christian Coalition with coordinating its election voter guides with Republican Party leaders.

The commission voted on Sept. 22 not to appeal the decision in FEC v. Christian Coalition. A U.S. District Court judge on Aug. 2 ruled that the coalition's voter guides and most of its get-out-the-vote efforts were not designed expressly to aid Republican candidates.

"The coalition is quite pleased because [its] victory is now final in regards to issues disposed by the judge," said attorney James Bopp, who represented the group. "The coalition has felt all along that [it is] being persecuted not prosecuted and that the FEC was overreaching in trying to penalize perfectly lawful activity."

As of this morning, FEC commissioners hadn't issued a statement on its decision not to appeal, which they are required to do when they make a decision contrary to the recommendation of the agency's general counsel. The general counsel had urged the commission to continue its case against the Christian Coalition.

FEC officials told free! they didn't know when the commissioners would issue such a statement.

For years, the coalition has distributed the voter guides to churches on the Sunday before election day. After the FEC filed its lawsuit in 1996, the coalition vigorously defended its actions on free-speech grounds.

Federal election laws require disclosure by groups that contribute to political campaigns or expressly advocate a specific candidate. But U.S. District Judge Joyce Green ruled that the bulk of the coalition's election expenses did not constitute a contribution to the Republican Party.

Green did agree that the coalition in 1994 improperly assisted both former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, R-Ga., in a re-election bid and Oliver North in his Senate campaign in Virginia. She said she would determine the fine later.

Meanwhile, Bopp, as general counsel for the James Madison Center for Free Speech, has represented myriad right-to-life groups in their efforts to publish voter guides.

He recently filed a federal lawsuit on behalf of the Virginia Society for Human Life, asking the court to declare FEC regulations concerning express advocacy unconstitutionally overbroad and vague. He also filed a petition in July for the Iowa Right to Life Committee asking the FEC to repeal its rules on voter guides and voter records.

"Just in the express-advocacy area, the commission has lost every case they have brought trying to suppress citizen groups' efforts to inform the general public of their position," Bopp told free! "Hopefully, [it] now may focus efforts not on [retroactive] enforcement actions but on rulemaking."

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