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ERLC asks Bush to veto campaign reform measure

WASHINGTON (BP)–The Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission has asked President Bush to veto a campaign finance reform bill that it says would violate the U.S. Constitution’s protection of free speech.

In a March 1 letter, ERLC President Richard Land told the president Southern Baptists around the country want the legislation blocked from becoming law.

“I am receiving an overwhelming number of requests from our constituency to urge you in the strongest possible terms to veto the [reform legislation],” Land wrote. “People are concerned that the bill is unconstitutional in its restrictions on the First Amendment’s free-speech guarantees. Further, they are concerned that it will simply empower the liberal and biased national media to have greater influence over the election process.”

Land urged the president to return the legislation to Congress with a request that it send him a bill that is “constitutionally acceptable.”

With the letter, Land sent Bush a copy of a resolution adopted at last year’s Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting that rejected any campaign finance bill “that hinders or abridges free speech.”

The objections held by Land and others to the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act, H.R. 2356, 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 by a 501(c)(4) organization 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 a stipulation dismissing the need to prove an “agreement or formal collaboration” exists between an advocacy group and member of Congress.

Douglas Johnson of the National Right to Life Committee, a leader in opposing the legislation, described the provisions as “draconian prohibitions on the freedoms of speech and association of citizen groups” in a mid-February letter asking House of Representatives members to oppose the bill. The House, however, voted 240-189 the next day for H.R. 2356, which has Reps. Christopher Shays, R.-Conn., and Marty Meehan, D.-Mass., as its lead sponsors.

A Senate vote on the bill should be soon, with members expected to approve it.

The day before Land’s letter, Family Research Council President Ken Connor also called for Bush to veto the bill “until a reasonable compromise is found which doesn’t endanger our First Amendment rights. We acknowledge the corrupting influence money has on politics but encourage the president to put the Constitution first and political popularity second.”

A coalition of more than 50 conservative organizations and leaders also sent a letter of opposition Feb. 28, this one to members of the Senate. Among those signing on to the letter by the American Conservative Union were FRC, Traditional Values Coalition, the National Rifle Association, Americans for Tax Reform and Coalitions for America.

Conservatives are not the only ones criticizing the bill for its free-speech problems. The American Civil Liberties Union also is opposed to it.

The Senate approved last April similar legislation sponsored by Sens. Russell Feingold, D.-Wis., and John McCain, R.-Ariz. The vote on that version, which was opposed by numerous organizations for the same reasons, was 59-41.

While opponents contend the legislation is unconstitutional, supporters argue it will survive a legal challenge in the Supreme Court.

“This legislation limits the funds that can be used by groups for these kinds of communications,” said Norman Ornstein of the American Enterprise Institute, according to CNSNews.com. “It doesn’t stop them from communicating.”