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GOP, state parties join fight against campaign-finance law

By The Associated Press

05.08.02

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WASHINGTON — The Republican National Committee and the California Democratic and Republican parties are challenging new campaign-finance restrictions, arguing they would cripple their participation in politics.

At issue in lawsuits the three filed yesterday is a ban on unlimited contributions known as "soft money" that national Republican and Democratic party committees can now collect from businesses, unions and others, and members of Congress and the president can help raise.

The political parties use soft money, which often comes in six-figure checks, to pay for overhead, issue advertisements and party-building activities such as get-out-the-vote drives.

The RNC lawsuit argues that banning national party committees from raising soft money is oppressive and unconstitutional, unfairly imposing greater restrictions on their speech than that of other groups.

"Both political parties have an incredibly long and important participatory role in the political life of this nation," RNC Chairman Marc Racicot said. "We are engaged with the individual states and territories in virtually every election cycle and we work as partners in this process."

Racicot said the RNC felt duty-bound to file its lawsuit, even though one feature of the new law — an increase in the limit on individual campaign contributions — could enable the GOP to widen its advantage over Democrats in raising such "hard money."

The RNC contends the new law unconstitutionally interferes with state laws and the financing of state and local elections — in which the national parties have played a key part with soft money — potentially shutting the national parties out of nonfederal races.

The law also is vague, potentially chilling free speech and association as political parties try to figure out what they must do to comply with it, the lawsuit says.

The California Democratic and Republican parties joined forces to file a similar lawsuit. The Democratic National Committee doesn't plan a challenge.

Lance Olson, an attorney for the California Democrats, said the law would weaken state and local parties, in part by restricting the ability of elected federal officials and candidates to raise soft money for them. The loss of national soft money will hurt parties' core activities, including voter registration, he said.

Congress approved the overhaul of campaign-finance rules — scheduled to take effect after the November election — after a years-long fight over the legislation.

President Bush, who like Democratic predecessor Bill Clinton has been a prolific raiser of soft money for his party, reluctantly signed the bill in March.

The RNC did not consult with the Bush administration or Congress before filing the lawsuit, Racicot said.

Common Cause legislative director Matt Keller said his group and bill sponsors including Sens. Russ Feingold, D-Wis., and John McCain, R-Ariz., will file court arguments supporting the new law.

The RNC is joined in its lawsuit by the Republican parties of Colorado, New Mexico, Ohio and Dallas County, Iowa.

Several others also want to strike down parts of the law, including the National Rifle Association, the AFL-CIO, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the National Association of Broadcasters and Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. New restrictions on political ads during election periods are a key focus of the challenges.

Among those challenging the new campaign-finance rules:
  • McConnell, American Civil Liberties Union, Christian Coalition, Libertarian National Committee, National Right to Life Committee, Southeastern Legal Foundation and others:

    Pursuing the broadest challenge to the new law. Lawsuit seeks to strike down ban on unlimited contributions to national political party committees, known as soft money; restrictions on election-period ads; a ban on campaign contributions by minors; restrictions on coordination of ads among groups and candidates or party committees; disclosure rules for those who spend more than $10,000 in a year on "electioneering communications."

  • AFL-CIO, National Rifle Association, U.S. Chamber of Commerce, National Association of Manufacturers, National Association of Wholesaler-Distributors:

    Challenging disclosure requirements for ads and restrictions on election-period ads and coordination of speech with a candidate, campaign or political party.

  • National Association of Broadcasters:

    Seeking to overturn restrictions on election-period ads.

  • National Voting Rights Institute, U.S. Public Interest Research Group, Association of Community Organizations For Reform Now, Fannie Lou Hamer Project:

    Seeking to overturn increase in limit on individual contributions known as hard money, arguing it would give the wealthy undue political influence and discriminate against non-wealthy voters and candidates.

  • Republican National Committee, California Democratic Party, Republican Parties of California, Colorado, New Mexico, Ohio and Dallas County, Iowa:

    Challenging soft-money ban, arguing federal law unconstitutionally usurps states' right to regulate state and local elections.

Update

FEC fights questioning from GOP
Commission asks federal court to free it from having to answer questions in lawsuit challenging new campaign-finance law.  09.05.02

Related

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

FEC begins work of crafting campaign-finance rules
Commission must spell out exactly what type of political spending new law bans.  05.13.02

Campaign-finance law sponsors to challenge FEC rules
Strategy targeting regulators' plan to enforce soft-money ban comes as Republican Party seeks details on its rivals' fund raising, ads as part of its bid to overturn new law.  06.26.02

Groups seek exemption from campaign law's ad restrictions
Meanwhile, congressional GOP group's attorney tells FEC free-speech issues must be foremost in commissioners' minds as they write ad rules.  08.28.02

Bush signs campaign-finance bill
National Rifle Association swiftly files suit challenging constitutionality of the new law.  03.27.02

Feingold: Clinton, others trying to find ways around soft-money ban
'It was a troubling display for a party that claims to be for trying to clean up the system,' campaign-finance law author says of Senate Democrats' closed-door meeting.  07.22.02

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

Campaign-finance law on fast track to Neverland
By Ken Paulson Drafters of McCain-Feingold must have had a head full of pixie dust when they restricted certain pre-election broadcast ads.  04.21.02

High court takes low number of First Amendment cases
Analysis But blockbuster issues — including campaign finance and Internet censorship — await chance to make it to center stage.  10.04.02

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