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GOP’s McCain-Feingold suit looks to Supreme Court

- The Washington Times - Friday, November 14, 2008

Election lawyers say the Republican National Committee is probably banking on changes to the Supreme Court in its latest challenge to the McCain-Feingold campaign finance law.

"The main difference would be the two new justices on the Supreme Court," said Tara Malloy, a lawyer at the Campaign Legal Center, which has defended McCain-Feingold.

Since earlier legal defeats Justice Sandra Day O'Connor and Chief Justice William Rhenquist have left the court and been replaced with Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. and Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr.

But Michael J. Malbin, executive director of the Campaign Finance Institute, said the law seems settled.

"As a matter of constitutional law, the court has upheld Congress' authority to make the decisions it has made, and I don't see anything that is fundamentally different in application here from what the court decided," Mr. Malbin said, referring to a 2003 case.

On Thursday, in two lawsuits filed in federal court in Louisiana and the District, the RNC wants national political parties to be allowed to exchange information and money more easily with candidates and to raise and spend so-called "soft money," the high-dollar donations that parties say they want to use for voter registration and party-building activities. The soft money ban was a central part of McCain-Feingold.

"This is an infringement on my constitutional rights and an infringement on my party," said RNC Chairman Robert M. "Mike" Duncan.

The suit names the Federal Election Commission, which oversees elections, as the defendant.

The Supreme Court ruled in 2001 that Congress could limit parties' coordination with candidates, and ruled in 2003 that McCain-Feingold's restrictions on soft money were constitutional.

But Mr. Duncan, who is considering a bid to remain as RNC chairman next year, said previous rulings show coordinating with candidates and raising soft money is not a corrupting influence on politics, and said he hopes the court will carve out exceptions.

Sen. Russell D. Feingold, the Wisconsin Democrat who helped the Republican Party's failed presidential nominee Sen. John McCain shepherd the law through the Senate, said the lawsuit was an odd statement: "It is very disappointing that the party that just nominated John McCain as its standard bearer is again trying to undermine the law he worked so hard to pass."

Mr. McCain's office didn't respond to e-mail and phone inquiries and President Bush's spokesman said it wasn't their issue.

"That is a matter for the party and how they plan for future campaigns," said Scott Stanzel.

The RNC wouldn't say whether Mr. Bush, who signed the law, or Mr. McCain were given a heads-up on the suit, but said the party's position has been the same for years, including when it joined an earlier suit against McCain-Feingold.

"This is not a change of course," said spokesman Chris Taylor.

The FEC said it would have no comment.

In a decision last year, the Supreme Court did carve out some exceptions to McCain-Feingold , allowing interest groups broader freedom to run ads aimed at federal officeholders.

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