- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 4, 2002

With any luck, the court battle over campaign-finance "reform" will be resolved as early as June 2003, in time for the 2004 presidential campaign and long before any permanent damage could be done to congressional campaigns.

Shortly after President Bush violated his own clearly enunciated principles by signing the unconstitutional Shays-Meehan legislation last week, Republican Sen. Mitch McConnell, who had fought the good fight for years on behalf of free speech, filed suit in federal court in Washington. According to the expedited judicial review outlined in the bill itself, a three-judge panel at the federal district level will hear the case, after which it will be appealed directly to the U.S. Supreme Court, which could issue its decision as early as June of next year.

Mr. McConnell is challenging the bill's ban on soft-money contributions to national political parties, convincingly arguing that such a ban violates the First Amendment's guarantees of free speech and association. Conveniently, though not coincidentally, the soft-money ban also protects incumbent politicians. Mr. McConnell also seeks to overturn the bill's attempt to restrict issue ads financed by interest groups, which are nothing more than organizations formed by like-minded citizens to influence public policy.

In a separate action on the same day, the National Rifle Association (NRA) filed suit as well. Speaking on behalf of the NRA's 4.2 million members, whose collective voice the bill seeks to stifle at the moment that voice matters most, i.e., during the 30-day period before a primary election and during the 60-day period preceding a general election, NRA Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre irrefutably declared that the bill's restriction on issue ads "effectively repeals the First Amendment." At the same time, he rightly charged, Shays-Meehan would establish "a separate class of favored speech for big media conglomerates and politicians."

It is beyond debate that the bill would, ipso facto, significantly increase the relative political power of The Washington Post and the New York Times. Their liberal views, of course, are amplified across the nation by the news readers Dan Rather, Peter Jennings and Tom Brokaw at the major broadcast networks, whose relative political power would also greatly expand. No wonder, as George Will observed recently, The Post and the Times "editorialized, on average, every 5.5 days [over the past five years] for new restrictions on political advocacy by others" a level of advocacy that Mr. McConnell quipped would amount to $8 million in soft-money contributions to the self-appointed reformers.

During the 60 days immediately preceding the 2000 general election, the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University one of the self-appointed reformers counted more than 135,000 televised political ads that were not funded by candidates or their own political committees. These would be the supposedly notorious issue ads sponsored by political parties using soft money and by interest groups, such as the NRA and Handgun Control. In seeking to reduce such ads drastically, Shays-Meehan attempts to muzzle their political messages a direct assault upon the First Amendment. The Supreme Court cannot strike down these blatant assaults on America's political freedom quickly enough.

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