Suit Aims to Lift Campaign-Finance Donor Limits

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Byline: Matthew Cawvey, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

A new free-speech advocacy group should win its lawsuit against the Federal Election Commission (FEC) and be able to disregard the federal limit on individual donations, said participants in a symposium on the case at the Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank.

The group wants to advertise against candidates who favor campaign-finance reform legislation it sees as limiting free speech. SpeechNow claims the FEC has violated its First Amendment rights of free speech and freedom of association with the yearly limit of $5,000 on individual donations.

This distinctive nature of SpeechNow among political advocacy groups presents a new legal challenge to campaign-finance reform and could result in a proliferation of similar organizations if the courts rule in its favor, symposium participants and a law school professor from California said.

"Would victory for SpeechNow mean that groups of citizens could band together and spend unlimited funds to influence the outcome of elections? The answer is absolutely yes. And I can only hope that if we are successful in this case, many groups - many individuals - would join together and do precisely that," said Steve Simpson, senior lawyer at the Institute for Justice (IJ), a nonprofit libertarian public-interest law firm that represents the group in the lawsuit.

The FEC considers SpeechNow to be a political committee, which restricts its contributions to $5,000 donations per year from individuals.

David Keating, president of SpeechNow, said he wants his organization to be called an "independent speech group" instead of a political action committee (PAC) or a so-called "527" group, which are not bound to PAC contribution limits but cannot call for the election or defeat of a particular candidate. PACs are able to contribute money to candidates and parties, but SpeechNow will not give to candidates, said Mr. Keating.

SpeechNow wants to focus on defeating Sen. …