- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 19, 2001

A federal judges ruling that "soft money" contributions to political parties are a constitutional right demolished the underpinnings of the McCain-Feingold campaign finance bill, key Republicans said yesterday.
They called the decision a "harbinger" of what the Supreme Court would do if the McCain bill became law.
"This is a tremendous victory for our democracy," Sen. Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican, told The Washington Times. "McCain-Feingold is a ticking constitutional time bomb. If enacted, it would blow up the minute it landed in court."
Mr. McConnell repeated his pledge to "be the lead plaintiff lighting the fuse."
Republican National Committee Chairman James S. Gilmore III called the decision "a flashing red light that says limits on free speech, through campaign finance laws or otherwise, are unconstitutional."
When asked for comment by The Washington Times yesterday, backers of a regulation bill sponsored by Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican, and Sen. Russell D. Feingold, Wisconsin Democrat, seemed unaware of Fridays ruling in an Alaska case.
In that decision — which went largely unreported in the press outside Alaska — U.S. District Judge James Singleton struck down a part of the states 1997 campaign contributions law that blocked businesses and labor unions from donating money to political parties.
The judge let stand the state laws ban on business and union contributions to individual candidates.
Some regulation proponents were cautious in assessing the significance of the Alaska decision on the sweeping new federal prohibitions sought by Mr. McCain and others.
"Well be examining this ruling," said McCain spokeswoman Nancy Ives. "But the vast majority of constitutional experts agree that we can ban soft money."
Rep. Christopher Shays, Connecticut Republican and co-sponsor of the House version of McCain-Feingold, said that neither he nor his staff had received word of the decision.
"Its not uncommon for a federal district judge to be overturned [by a higher court], and I would think in this case he would be overturned," Mr. Shays said. "There are a number of cases that have affirmed the kind of ban this judge ruled against."
Regulation opponents, by contrast, were more confident about the decisions impact.
"This decision reaffirms that the campaign finance regulators legislation has a terrible track record with the federal judiciary," Michael Toner, the Republican National Committees chief legal counsel, told The Washington Times.
The Supreme Court ruled in 1996 that federal limits on political parties expenditures made to help individual federal candidates violate the First Amendment when that spending is not coordinated with a candidates campaign.
Mr. Toner said Fridays ruling "could be a real harbinger of how the Supreme Court would view McCain-Feingold if it ever became law."
In his ruling, Judge Singleton said that restricting "donations to political parties for purposes unrelated to nominating or electing candidates [including] issue advocacy and voter registration … significantly interferes with the protected rights of speech and association."
Most Democrats publicly support the McCain-Feingold restrictions on contributions and political advertising in federal elections, but most Republicans oppose the legislation.
In what could be another challenge to campaign regulators who have passed campaign finance legislation in the Senate this year, Rep. Bob Ney, Ohio Republican, is formulating an alternative bill that has support from some Democrats, including the Congressional Black Caucus.
Both friends and foes of campaign finance reform are awaiting a U.S. Supreme Court decision expected next week in a Colorado case that could be a fatal blow to the constitutionality of McCain-Feingold.
In the Colorado case, the high court will decide if the First Amendment is violated by a limit on how much hard money a political party spends in coordination with its candidates, said election-laws lawyer Cleta Mitchell.
"The Alaska decision and the Colorado case are two pieces of McCain-Feingold," she said. "Alaska dealt with the soft-money ban similar to McCain-Feingolds. The Colorado case involves hard dollars contributed to a candidate."

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