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Court allows issue ads near elections

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  • Greg Cannon
    http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20070625/ap_on_el_pr/scotus_campaign_finance_16;_ylt=AgkeMDHSmbtAzCmaJtSdJgNuCM0A Court allows issue ads near elections By MARK
    Message 1 of 1 , Jun 25 10:00 AM
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      http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20070625/ap_on_el_pr/scotus_campaign_finance_16;_ylt=AgkeMDHSmbtAzCmaJtSdJgNuCM0A

      Court allows issue ads near elections

      By MARK SHERMAN, Associated Press Writer 2 minutes ago

      WASHINGTON - The Supreme Court loosened political
      advertising restrictions aimed at corporate- and
      union-funded television ads Monday, weakening a key
      provision of a landmark campaign finance law.

      The court's 5-4 ruling could become a significant
      factor in the upcoming presidential primaries, giving
      interest groups a louder and more influential voice in
      the closing days before those contests as well as the
      general election.

      The decision upheld an appeals court ruling that an
      anti-abortion group should have been allowed to air
      ads during the final two months before the 2004
      elections. The law unreasonably limits speech and
      violates the group's First Amendment rights, the court
      said.

      "Discussion of issues cannot be suppressed simply
      because the issues may also be pertinent in an
      election," Chief Justice John Roberts wrote for the
      majority. "Where the First Amendment is implicated,
      the tie goes to the speaker, not the censor."

      The case involved advertisements that Wisconsin Right
      to Life was prevented from broadcasting. The ads asked
      voters to contact the state's two senators, Democrats
      Russ Feingold and Herb Kohl, and urge them not to
      filibuster President Bush's judicial nominees.

      Feingold, a co-author of the campaign finance law, was
      up for re-election in 2004.

      The provision in question was aimed at preventing the
      airing of issue ads that cast candidates in positive
      or negative lights while stopping short of explicitly
      calling for their election or defeat. Sponsors of such
      ads have contended they are exempt from certain limits
      on contributions in federal elections.

      A first test of the impact of the court's opinion
      could come as early as December, a month before
      presidential caucuses and primaries in Iowa, Nevada,
      New Hampshire and South Carolina.

      "The ruling could have important implications for the
      2008 presidential election and could reorder the
      advertising strategies of corporate America and labor
      unions over the next two years," said Michael Toner, a
      former chairman of the Federal Election Commission,
      which oversees campaign finance law.

      The decision is a setback for Sen. John McCain,
      R-Ariz., who helped write the 2002 campaign finance
      legislation with Feingold that contained the
      advertising provision. McCain, now a presidential
      candidate, has come under criticism from conservatives
      for attempting to restrict political money and
      political advertising.

      "It is regrettable that a split Supreme Court has
      carved out a narrow exception by which some corporate
      and labor expenditures can be used to target a federal
      candidate in the days and weeks before an election,"
      McCain said in a statement.

      The court's decision, however, has no effect on the
      more far-reaching component of the campaign finance
      law — it's ban on the ability of political parties to
      raise unlimited and unrestricted amounts of money from
      unions, corporations and wealthy donors.

      "Fortunately," McCain said, "that central reform still
      stands as the law."

      Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, who has
      been critical of McCain's stance, promptly hailed the
      court's decision.

      "McCain-Feingold was a poorly-crafted bill," Romney
      said in a statement. "Today's decision restores, in
      part, to the American people a right critical to their
      freedom of political participation and expression."

      Three justices, Anthony Kennedy, Antonin Scalia and
      Clarence Thomas, would have overruled the court's 2003
      decision upholding the constitutionality of the
      provision.

      Roberts and Justice Samuel Alito said only that the
      Wisconsin group's ads are not the equivalent of
      explicit campaign ads and are not covered by the
      court's 2003 decision.

      That means the FEC will likely have to step in and
      write specific rules about such advertising that
      reflect the court's opinion.

      Justice David Souter, joined by his three liberal
      colleagues, said in his dissent that the court
      "effectively and, unjustifiably, overruled" the
      earlier decision.

      The ads could have been run, Souter pointed out, had
      they been paid for out of the group's political action
      committee, which is subject to federal campaign
      finance limits. Or Feingold's name could have been
      omitted, he said.

      "Thus, what is called a 'ban' on speech is a limit on
      the financing of electioneering broadcasts by entities
      ... that insist on acting as conduits from the
      campaign war chests of business corporations," Souter
      said.

      Justices Stephen Breyer, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and John
      Paul Stevens joined Souter's dissent.

      The Bush administration urged the court to ban the
      ads, arguing that they were meant to influence the
      elections, not lobby the senators.

      An array of interest groups across the political
      spectrum sought the outcome the court reached Monday.
      They include: the American Civil Liberties Union, the
      National Rifle Association, labor unions and business
      groups.

      ___

      The consolidated case is Federal Election Commission
      v. Wisconsin Right to Life, 06-969, and McCain v.
      Wisconsin Right to Life, 06-970.
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