Conservatives, Liberals Alike Attack Legality of Campaign Finance Reform

Article excerpt

Legal scholars ranging from the ACLU president to a lawyer who has represented the Christian Coalition and the National Right to Life Committee told a House panel yesterday that current attempts at campaign finance reform are unconstitutional.

Rep. Steve Chabot, Ohio Republican and chairman of the Constitution subcommittee of the House Judiciary Committee, called the oversight hearing to help determine the constitutional issues in campaign finance reform.

Two bills - the McCain-Feingold bill, which has already passed the Senate, and the Shays-Meehan bill - are pending in the House this summer.

But three of the four scholars before the panel yesterday said those bills are unconstitutional restrictions on freedom of speech.

"At best it chills, at worst it outright gags, the most important speech in a democracy - citizens' criticism of government policies and officials," said Nadine Strossen, president of the American Civil Liberties Union.

And James Bopp Jr., a lawyer who has represented a number of conservative causes and state Republican parties, said he has persuaded a number of courts to strike down restrictions like those in the bills. He also said no court case suggests the U.S. Supreme Court would uphold the restrictions.

The sole witness supporting the legislation didn't explicitly rebut that. But Glenn J. Moramarco, a lawyer at the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law, said the bills won't hurt true issue advocacy ads, but rather will go after ads that blur the line between issues and candidates.

A Brennan Center study of the 2000 election cycle showed that of 252 ads sponsored by interest groups, only three were "genuine issue ads that did not have the intent of electing or defeating a candidate."

The Supreme Court has drawn a distinction between ads that advocate a position on an issue and ads that advocate electing or defeating a candidate. …