- The Washington Times - Friday, January 19, 2007


The Supreme Court agreed yesterday to referee a challenge to limits on pre-election ads, a key provision of the landmark campaign finance law that the court upheld in 2003.

The justices will hear an appeal of a lower court decision that relaxed restrictions on mentioning candidates by name in issue ads run by corporations, labor unions and other special interest groups near the climax of a campaign.

The court will hear the case in April and almost certainly decide it by July, well before the first presidential voting takes place in the Iowa caucuses next January.

Issue ads are those that do not purport to influence an election, but rather focus attention on an issue their sponsors find important. A provision of the McCain-Feingold law prohibits mentioning a candidate in issue ads in the 60 days before a general election and 30 days before a primary.

Its purpose was to end the common practice of circumventing limits on contributions in federal elections by airing ads that avoided expressly advocating a vote for or against someone while making clear a preference for, or more often, disapproval of one candidate.

The Supreme Court previously said the provision complies with First Amendment guarantees of free speech. The 2-1 ruling by a special court here in December does not so much challenge the high court holding as carve out exceptions to it.

Yet if the justices were to adopt the lower court’s reasoning, they would “really blow a hole” in the provision, said Richard Hasen, an election law specialist at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles.

“The purpose of the provision was to close a loophole that was allowing large amounts of corporate and union money to be spent on ads intended to influence federal elections,” Mr. Hasen said. The court could reopen “that loophole for a large number of ads.”

The Supreme Court yesterday also said it will review a lower court ruling allowing New York City to sue countries that own property near the United Nations over unpaid taxes.

The city has battled over property taxes for years with countries that house their consulates and diplomatic missions in Manhattan skyscrapers.

Under U.S. treaties, embassies and other diplomatic buildings are generally tax-exempt, but the city claims some countries are refusing to pay taxes on real estate used for non-diplomatic purposes, such as restaurants and apartments.

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