Conservatives Organize to Defeat 'Unconstitutional' Campaign Finance Bill
Jeff Johnson, CNSNews.com
Friday, Mar. 1, 2002
Capitol Hill (CNSNews.com) -- A coalition of more than 50 conservative leaders and groups, led by the American Conservative Union, has united to defeat the Shays-Meehan bill, which is aimed at changing U.S. campaign finance law and is set to be considered in the Senate the first week of March.
" On behalf of the nearly one million members and supporters of the American Conservative Union, and the millions more represented by those groups who have co-signed this letter, " wrote ACU Chairman David Keene, " I am writing to urge you to vote against the ill-conceived, unconstitutional Shays-Meehan Campaign Finance 'Reform' bill, recently passed by the House. "
The letter was co-signed by 56 groups and individuals, representing conservative organizations ranging from Americans for Tax Reform and Gun Owners of America to the United Seniors Association and the Center for Military Readiness.
Common Cause strongly supports the bill, and has even come under fire from some Republicans for having written parts of the legislation. Common Cause attorney Don Simon says the ACU letter is " entirely off base.
" The Supreme Court has made clear time and time again that regulation of money in the political process is permissible and is consistent with the First Amendment in order to deter corruption and the appearance of corruption in government, " Simon said. " What this bill is about is precisely that. "
But Keene's letter points out that the bill would not only regulate contributions to government officials and candidates for federal office, but would also limit spending by private issue advocacy groups.
" The bill you will be voting on redefines political speech and outlaws or criminalizes speech that every American has always thought protected by the First Amendment to our Constitution, " Keene wrote. " Looked at from our perspective, you are about to be asked to vote on a bill that tells those who might want to criticize your actions in the future to just shut up. "
At issue is the so-called " blackout period " 30 days before a primary election and 60 days before a general election, which Keene says amounts to a ban on television advertising by issue advocacy groups. Simon disagrees.
" These are ads which clearly are intended to influence the election. They're ads which are run right before an election, that mention candidates by name, that attack candidates or praise their opponents, " he argued, " that any person is going to understand as campaign ads. "
Keene told CNSNews.com in a previous interview that supporters of such " reforms " want to silence the criticism of incumbents, no matter how outrageous a position they might take or what piece of legislation they might support.
" This would shut down all issues advocacy organizations during the one period when people tend to listen, " Keene said, noting that most voters are simply too busy to follow politics closely until just before an election. " What they're saying is that you can talk, that you have free speech, but not at any time when it'll make any difference. "
Simon says the ads aren't " banned, " but rather the issue advocacy groups are required to buy campaign ads, and comply with the rules imposed on candidates and political parties.
" If they're operating within 60 and 30 days of an election, and they want to mention the name of a candidate, and they want to broadcast the ad on TV, and they want to target it to that candidate's district, " he added, " then a corporation or labor union would have to use funds out of its PAC [Political Action Committee]. "
Keene says that provision of the bill is a meaningless attempt to confuse the public.
" These [non-profit] advocacy groups cannot buy campaign ads, they can buy issues ads, " he explained, adding that IRS regulations prohibit the groups from buying advertising that advocates the election or defeat of a candidate. " In fact, issues advocacy organizations would be banned from involving themselves 60 days out [from an election]. "
The courts, Keene believes, will quickly strike down the prohibition on issue advocacy ads.
" If you can honestly say you believe the restrictions on the very political speech that is at the core of what the founders wanted to protect when they adopted the First Amendment will be found constitutional, ignore this letter, " Keene wrote in his letter to senators. " But if you believe they won't pass muster by a court that actually believes in free speech, do everyone a favor by voting against it. "
" Don't make the courts do your job, " he concluded.