- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 26, 2001

The Supreme Court's 5-4 ruling that upheld limits on spending by political parties on behalf of congressional candidates will have no impact on pending campaign finance reform legislation, election law analysts said yesterday.
The difference between what the high court ruled yesterday and what the McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform bill is all about is the difference between apples and oranges, legal analysts said.
"This is a status quo opinion. It changes nothing," said Craig Engle, a former chief counsel to the Federal Election Commission, which oversees campaign finance law. "It is not a breakthrough for the reformers or a setback for opponents of reform. What this opinion says is that you can have contribution limits. We've known that for years."
The court narrowly overturned a U.S. Appeals Court decision in a 15-year-old Colorado case, which ruled that political parties have the right under the U.S. Constitution to spend as much as they wish to support congressional candidates. The high court rejected that yesterday, ruling instead that a party's expenditures in coordination with a candidate for Congress can be limited to prevent circumvention of hard money contribution caps.
Campaign finance reformers quickly seized on the decision yesterday, saying it would give added support to the Senate-passed McCain-Feingold bill, which the House is expected to take up next month. "Clearly this decision demonstrates that McCain-Feingold restrictions on campaign contributions are constitutional," Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican, said yesterday.
But opponents of the bill said the ruling actually has little, if any, connection to the issues being addressed by the McCain-Feingold bill. The case decided by the court yesterday is about limiting party expenditures, while the constitutional issue at the heart of McCain-Feingold is about limiting soft, unregulated contributions to the national parties.
"McCain-Feingold advocates can take no comfort in today's decision," said Sen. Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican. The Colorado case "was about federally restricted hard money, while McCain-Feingold would ban non-federal 'soft' money."
Mr. McConnell said that a more important, though little-noticed, U.S. District Court ruling out of Alaska earlier this month made it less likely that McCain-Feingold would pass constitutional muster.
In that case, he said, the court "ruled that soft money is protected by the First Amendment and cannot be banned by the government."
Mr. McCain, eager to prove that his proposed ban on unlimited contributions is constitutional, said the court's ruling "will give momentum to campaign finance reform supporters … and increases the likelihood that meaningful reform is finally passed into law this year."
But legal analysts saw the meaning of yesterday's ruling very differently.
"In fact, this decision narrows the door that McCain's bill has to pass through," Mr. Engle said. "One of McCain-Feingold's objectives is to treat party committees differently from other groups. So to the extent that campaign finance reform legislation wants to treat party committees differently from other groups, this opinion says that you can't," he said.
"The McCain-Feingold bill's major thrust is to prohibit soft money contributions to party committees. This case and this ruling has nothing to do with contributions to party committees or with soft money," he said.

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