WASHINGTON (BP)–The American Center for Law and Justice filed suit in U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., April 4 challenging the constitutionality of the campaign finance reform on First Amendment grounds.
“The new law goes well beyond what is permissible and clearly crosses a constitutional line — trampling the First Amendment rights of those who desire to speak out during political campaigns,” Jay Sekulow, the ACLJ’s chief counsel, said in a prepared statement.
“There are provisions that not only prohibit free speech, but discriminate against those that are not part of the powerful media elite,” Sekulow’s statement continued. “The First Amendment cannot be sacrificed in the name of campaign finance reform. We’re confident that the court will uphold the First Amendment constitutional rights of Americans to participate in the political process.”
The ACLJ filed suit on behalf of six teenagers and a minister, Patrick J. Mahoney, who is the director of the Christian Defense Coalition, a pro-life, Christian activist organization.
In the suit, the ACLJ contends a number of provisions of the campaign finance reform law are unconstitutional — including a provision that prohibits persons age 17 and younger from donating to candidates’ campaigns. Further, the suit challenges the provision that bans election-oriented ads 60 days prior to a general election and 30 days before a primary election.
The six young adults represented by the ACLJ have been interested in politics and have volunteered to work in electoral campaigns.
Mahoney, according to the ACLJ, has given financial donations to numerous pro-life advocacy organizations, including National Right to Life, but is now prohibited from contributing in a manner that permits the organizations to continue their communications in the days leading up to elections.
The lawsuit contends the provisions of the law violate the rights of free speech, free exercise of association, expression and assembly guaranteed by the First Amendment of the Constitution as well as the due process and equal protection rights guaranteed by the Fifth Amendment.
The suit names as defendants the Federal Elections Commission, FEC Commissioners and U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft. The suit requests that the court declare the provisions of the law unconstitutional and issue a permanent injunction against enforcement of the challenged provisions.
“President Bush acknowledged the measure had ‘flaws’ when he signed the bill into law,” Sekulow said. “He admitted that certain provisions ‘present serious constitutional concerns’ and we are committed to ensuring that those provisions never see the light of day.”
The ACLJ, an international public interest law firm and educational organization specializing in constitutional law, is headquartered in Virginia Beach, Va. Its website address is www.aclj.org.
The National Rifle Association also has filed a federal suit against the law.
The Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act was signed by President Bush after a 60-40 Senate vote March 20 and a 240-189 House of Representatives vote in February.
Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, lamented after the Senate vote that “the price is too high” for such reform because of its First Amendment limitations.
“As passed by the Congress, this bill should really be called the Media Power Enhancement Act, in that the bans on certain kinds of advertising 60 days before a general election and 30 days before a primary election greatly increase the power of the media to control the debate in political campaigns,” Land said.
Specific objections expressed by Land and others to the legislation include:
— A provision that would bar advocacy organizations classified as 501(c)(4) by the Internal Revenue Service from financing television or radio ads that include the name of a candidate, including a member of Congress, for 60 days before a general election and 30 days prior to a congressional primary.
— A fall-back measure that would prohibit at any time a broadcast ad that “promotes” or “attacks” a candidate and is considered to be “suggestive” of a vote for or against a candidate.
— A section that bans communications year round from advocacy groups determined to be in coordination with a member of Congress, with no “agreement or formal collaboration to establish coordination” required.
In addition to the ERLC, others opposing the bill were the National Right to Life Committee, Family Research Council, Christian Coalition, American Conservative Union, Americans for Tax Reform, American Civil Liberties Union and National Rifle Association.
The Southern Baptist Convention last year adopted a resolution opposing any campaign finance bill “that hinders or abridges free speech.”
After the bill’s Senate passage, the Interfaith Alliance was among organizations applauding the measure. Welton Gaddy, the alliance’s executive director, called it a “landmark event that demonstrates members of Congress are truly committed to working toward true campaign finance reform. We hope the nation’s lawmakers will continue in their efforts to reform the campaign finance system to exemplify” honesty, integrity and equality, Gaddy said in a written release.