- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 25, 2002

The Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002 also known as the McCain-Feingold bill and recently signed into law by President Bush is about to draw a bipartisan challenge from California.
Officials in both parties confirmed that the state Republican and Democratic organizations will jointly challenge the constitutionality of provisions in the new law they say will cripple voter-registration efforts by state parties four months before primary and general elections and will bar national parties from transferring contributons to state parties.
The California Democratic Party had already decided to bring the challenge when the state Republican Party's directors voted in favor of the move in private session this week, thus setting in motion what lawyers said was an unprecedented legal challenge of federal campaign finance law by two normally warring state political parties.
"The new federal law drives a wedge between the national parties and the state parties by restricting the ability of national parties to raise money for the state parties," Lance Olson, the state Democratic Party's general counsel, said in an interview. "It has the federal government interfering in matters that belong to state political parties and violates both the First and Tenth amendments to the Constitution."
California Republican Party Chairman Shawn Steel called it "a moral and ethical duty to challenge this misguided and unethical law. Otherwise, millions of people involved in political parties will be disenfranchised and powerless."
Despite opposition from a coalition that included labor unions, abortion opponents, civil liberties organizations and pro-gun groups, the House last month approved the McCain-Feingold bill named for sponsors Sens. John McCain, Arizona Republican, and Russell D. Feingold, Wisconsin Democrat.
Mr. Bush spoke out against the measure during the 2000 campaign but then disappointed conservatives in his own party by signing it into law.
The California Republican Party made the decision to file suit against the federal law Tuesday night at a state party board of directors meeting, Mr. Steel confirmed.
The suit will be filed in the same federal court in Washington before which Republican Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the AFL-CIO, National Rifle Association and several other groups have already brought suit against the new campaign finance law.
"We expect our suit to be consolidated with those brought by Senator McConnell and some seven other challenges fielded to date," said California Republican Party general counsel Charles H. Bell.
Challenges by other groups focus on a variety of constitutional issues; the California suit addresses issues that go to the heart of the existence and historical purposes of state and local political parties, Mr. Bell said.
The bill, which goes into effect after the November elections this year, "bars contributions valid under state law from being used for voter registration," Mr. Bell said.
"The national party will be prohibited from raising anything but 'hard' federally regulated money and then is prohibited from transferring any of it to state parties," said Timothy J. Morgan, a director of the state Republican Party and a member of the Republican National Committee.
Previously, he said, "the national parties could raise both hard and soft money and make transfers fully disclosed and reported to state parties, which could then spend the money according to laws of their own states."
The Republican National Committee is the single biggest contributor to the state party's budget. "That will dry up completely under this law," said Mr. Morgan.
The bipartisan suit also challenges McCain-Feingold's "absolute prohibition on the use of contributions valid under state law for voter registration for four months before a primary election and for four months before a general election," he said. "So it shuts down for eight months one of any party's core functions persuading voters to affiliate with our party. We contend it is unconstitutional because it interferes with freedom of association and speech."
"So far as we know, the only other state party planning a similar challenge is the Alabama Republican Party," Mr. Morgan said.

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