- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 6, 2003

Opponents of the new campaign-finance law revealed yesterday that they have filed notice they will appeal Friday’s ruling to the Supreme Court as political committees and interest groups grappled with what the ruling means.A three-judge federal court panel assigned to hear the case ruled that political parties may raise and spend “soft money” for party-building activities, overturning part of the law but upholding its ban on political committees using soft money to run issue advertisements.The panel also struck down the law’s prohibition on outside groups running issue ads before an election or primary but replaced that with restrictions that such groups say are just as onerous.On Friday both the Federal Election Commission, the chief defendant, and Sen. Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican and the lead plaintiff in the case against the law, filed separate notices with the Supreme Court that they would appeal the lower-court ruling to the justices.”At its core, this is a case about the First Amendment. [The law] constitutes a frontal assault on First Amendment values, the likes of which have not been seen since the Republic’s infancy,” Mr. McConnell said in his filing.The National Rifle Association was to file its appeal of the rules for outside interest groups late yesterday or today. A blizzard of other filings from political-pressure groups and the Republic National Committee are expected.Several parties are considering asking the Supreme Court to stay the lower panel’s decision, but so far nobody has made such a request. If the Supreme Court granted a stay, the law would remain in effect as Congress passed it until the high court has a chance to rule.Last year Congress passed, and the president signed, a law prohibiting national parties from collecting or spending soft money — donations to the parties from unions, corporations and other groups for party building. The law left candidates and parties with only already-limited “hard money” donations that can be used to directly advocate or oppose a federal candidate.For now, officials said neither the Republican National Committee nor the Democratic National Committee has begun to raise or spend soft money. Attorneys for both parties are examining the 1,700 pages of opinions issued in the case.”The next couple of days will be critical. We clearly have not changed the way we conduct fund-raising operations,” DNC spokesman Guillermo Meneses said.”My recommendation to everyone is to go slow,” said Jan Baran, one of the attorneys advising the RNC. “We have to fully digest and understand the three-judge court’s decisions, and then we have to assess what, if anything, needs to be done further procedurally, and then there has to be an evaluation of what different groups want and need to do in the near future.”“My reaction to this whole decision is, ‘Thank God it’s not an election year,’ ” Mr. Baran said.The ruling still prohibits each party’s congressional and senatorial campaign committees from touching soft money, because they are controlled by members of Congress and the law still prohibits members from raising or spending soft money.The Supreme Court could hear the case in a special summer session or wait for its regular session to begin in October.For now, though, there are more questions than answers at the political parties.”People in the parties are not sure about this ruling, about exactly what they can do and not do,” said Michael J. Malbin, executive director of the nonpartisan Campaign Finance Institute.”There’s no question you’d be able to go for underwriting infrastructure … and that in turn will free up hard money, but it does look as if you could do some public communication as well,” he said.•Frank J. Murray contributed to this article.

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