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Bush signs campaign-finance bill

By The Associated Press

03.27.02

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GREENVILLE, S.C. — President Bush signed landmark campaign-finance legislation today as he opened an aggressive two-state, $3 million fund-raising swing.

The National Rifle Association swiftly filed suit challenging the constitutionality of the new law.

Critics have long argued the legislation violates the Constitution, and the NRA was the first in line to file its challenge at the federal courthouse a few blocks from the White House. The legislation "eviscerates the core protections of the First Amendment by prohibiting, on pain on criminal punishment, political speech," said a legal complaint filed on behalf of the NRA and its political victory fund.

In addition to the NRA, a group headed by Sen. Mitch McConnell,. R-Ky., filed suit challenging the constitutionality of the legislation. "Today I filed suit to defend the First Amendment right of all Americans to be able to fully participate in the political process," said McConnell, whose legal team includes Kenneth Starr, the one-time independent counsel during the Clinton administration.

White House spokeswoman Claire Buchan said Bush signed the bill with no fanfare in the Oval Office before leaving for his first fund-raiser here. Vice President Dick Cheney and national security adviser Condoleezza Rice were present at the signing but the principal sponsors of the legislation were not.

The president said in a written statement that while the bill has flaws, it "improves the current system of financing for federal campaigns."

Bush suggested he saw no contradiction in planning to raise more than $3 million for Republican candidates in South Carolina and Georgia today and tomorrow after signing the bill.

"I'm not going to lay down my arms," he said. "I'm going to participate in the system."

White House press secretary Ari Fleischer told reporters that the low-key signing was by design.

"To hold a giant South Lawn ceremony would not have the air of consistency, so the president conducted the signing in a ceremony that was befitting for his beliefs on the bill in its totality," Fleischer said. Congressional leaders were notified that the bill was signed, he said.

Sen. Russell Feingold, D-Wis., a co-sponsor of the legislation, said he was thrilled by the signing. "By ending the corrupt soft-money system, this bill will begin to return the legislative process to all citizens and help restore the public's confidence in their elected leaders," he said.

Another sponsor, Rep. Marty Meehan, D-Mass., braced for lawsuits that are already in the works. "Clearly the battle is not over. This bill will be challenged in court and we are ready for that fight," said Meehan.

About an hour after Bush signed the bill, the White House released a statement in Bush's name (see full text below).

"This legislation, although far from perfect, will improve the current financing system for federal campaigns," he said.

He saluted provisions preventing unions and corporations from making unregulated "soft-money" contributions to political parties, and another raising the limit on individual donations to candidates. He also welcomed new requirements compelling speedier disclosure of contributions.

These provisions, Bush said, "will result in an election finance system that encourages greater individual participation and provides the public more accurate and timely information than does the present system."

"All of the American electorate will benefit from these measures to strengthen our democracy," the president said.

He added, however, that the bill "has flaws," citing its ban on individual "soft money" gifts to parties and issue advertising. Both raise free-speech constitutional concerns, Bush said.

"I believe individual freedom to participate in elections should be expanded, not diminished," he said.

On one proposal he sought but Congress rejected, Bush suggested he will try again to block labor unions from turning dues into political contributions without the members' express consent.

"This legislation is the culmination of more than six years of debate among a vast array of legislators, citizens and groups. ... It does represent progress in this often-contentious area of public policy debate," Bush said.

"Taken as a whole, this bill improves the current system of financing for federal campaigns and therefore I have signed it into law."

Bush statement on campaign-finance bill

Statement by President Bush today after signing campaign finance legislation, as provided by the White House:

"Today I have signed into law H.R. 2356, the "Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002." I believe that this legislation, although far from perfect, will improve the current financing system for federal campaigns.

"The bill reforms our system of financing campaigns in several important ways. First, it will prevent unions and corporations from making unregulated, "soft" money contributions a legislative step for which I repeatedly have called. Often, these groups take political action without the consent of their members or shareholders, so that the influence of these groups on elections does not necessarily comport with the actual views of the individuals who comprise these organizations. This prohibition will help to right that imbalance.

"Second, this law will raise the decades-old limits on giving imposed on individuals who wish to support the candidate of their choice, thereby advancing my stated principle that election reform should strengthen the role of individual citizens in the political process.

"Third, this legislation creates new disclosure requirements and compels speedier compliance with existing ones, which will promote the free and swift flow of information to the public regarding the activities of groups and individuals in the political process. I long have believed that complete and immediate disclosure of the source of campaign contributions is the best way to reform campaign finance.

"These provisions of the bill will go a long way toward fixing some of the most pressing problems in campaign finance today. They will result in an election finance system that encourages greater individual participation, and provides the public more accurate and timely information, than does the present system. All of the American electorate will benefit from these measures to strengthen our democracy.

"However, the bill does have flaws. Certain provisions present serious constitutional concerns. In particular, H.R. 2356 goes farther than I originally proposed by preventing all individuals, not just unions and corporations, from making donations to political parties in connection with federal elections. I believe individual freedom to participate in elections should be expanded, not diminished; and when individual freedoms are restricted, questions arise under the First Amendment.

"I also have reservations about the constitutionality of the broad ban on issue advertising, which restrains the speech of a wide variety of groups on issues of public import in the months closest to an election. I expect that the courts will resolve these legitimate legal questions as appropriate under the law.

"As a policy matter, I would have preferred a bill that included a provision to protect union members and shareholders from involuntary political activities undertaken by their leadership. Individuals have a right not to have their money spent in support of candidates or causes with which they disagree, and those rights should be better protected by law. I hope that in the future the Congress and I can work together to remedy this defect of the current financing structure.

"This legislation is the culmination of more than six years of debate among a vast array of legislators, citizens and groups. Accordingly, it does not represent the full ideals of any one point of view. But it does represent progress in this often-contentious area of public policy debate. Taken as a whole, this bill improves the current system of financing for federal campaigns, and therefore I have signed it into law."

Update

Supporters mull next move in campaign-finance fight
Political science professor says battle over election funding will never be over, even if new law survives court challenges.  04.09.02

Previous

Campaign-finance bill sent to president
'I am consoled by the obvious fact that the courts do not defer to the Congress on matters of the Constitution,' says Sen. Mitch McConnell.  03.21.02

Related

Unlikely allies ready to challenge campaign-finance legislation
Analysis From Floyd Abrams to Kenneth Starr to James Bopp, attorneys say measure is vulnerable to First Amendment attack.  03.26.02

Starr to lead legal team fighting campaign-finance legislation
'It is now time for the courts to speak authoritatively to what the Congress has chosen to do,' says former Whitewater independent counsel.  03.22.02

GOP, state parties join fight against campaign-finance law
Republican National Committee's lawsuit argues soft-money ban unfairly imposes greater restrictions on political parties' speech than that of other groups.  05.08.02

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