Saturday, January 20, 2007

Supreme Court To Hear Challenge To McCain-Feingold Law

A staple of modern conservative politics is that campaign finance laws are a violation of Americans' First Amendment rights.

They have been itching to get the McCain Feingold campaign finance law overturned.

This may be their chance.

The Supreme Court agreed yesterday to revisit the landmark 2002 legislation overhauling the nation's campaign finance laws, moving to settle the role of campaign spending by corporations, unions and special interest groups in time for the 2008 presidential primaries.

It would be the first time the court has reviewed the McCain-Feingold law of 2002 since justices ruled 5 to 4 three years ago that the act was constitutional. Since then, Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, who was in the majority, has been replaced by Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr.

At issue in the case is the question of whether so-called issue advocacy ads paid for by the general funds of special interest groups and broadcast in the period before a federal election may mention specific candidates. A three-judge panel in Washington last month overturned that prohibition, which is one of the key provisions of the law known formally as the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act. ...

The justices moved quickly to take the case, which they will hear in April, in time for a ruling by the end of the court's summer term. It will make for unusual political pairings.

The Republican National Committee has been one of the strongest critics of the law, although McCain is one of his party's leading presidential contenders and a party to the appeal of the lower court's decision. The Bush administration is defending the Federal Election Commission against the Wisconsin antiabortion group, which has been a strong supporter of the president.

And Sen. Russell Feingold (D-Wis.) is not only one of the sponsors of the law but also the subject of the ads in question.

The 2004 radio ads put out by Wisconsin Right to Life said that a group of senators in Washington was keeping Bush's judicial nominees from getting a vote in the Senate and asked listeners to tell Feingold and the state's other senator, Herb Kohl (D), not to participate. "Contact Sens. Feingold and Kohl and tell them to oppose the filibuster," the announcer said.

But because Feingold was up for reelection, the FEC said that the group could not run the ads in the closing weeks of the election.

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