Saturday, September 19, 2009

527 Restrictions Lifted - Federal Appeals Court Overturns Campaign Finance Reform Law

A federal appeals court overturned campaign finance reform law regulations in a ruling on Friday that, if not reversed on appeal, will make it easier for independent "527" political groups to raise and spend money to influence elections.

The ruling frees political action groups to accept unlimited contributions and to spend unlimited funds independently supporting or opposing federal candidates.

The decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit came in a lawsuit brought by Emily's List, a nonprofit political organization that backs female Democratic candidates who support abortion rights.

The group challenged several Federal Election Commission regulations, arguing that the rules violated its First Amendment rights by limiting its ability to spend and raise money to influence elections. Circuit judges Brett M. Kavanaugh and Karen LeCraft Henderson agreed that the regulations violate free speech rights. A third judge, Janice Rogers Brown, said the regulations were invalid for other reasons.
"The First Amendment, as the Court has construed it, safeguards the right of citizens to band together and pool their resources . . . to express their views about policy issues and candidates for public office," Kavanaugh wrote in his 44-page opinion.

Federal Election Commission (FEC) spokeswoman, Judith Ingram, said commission officials will review the opinion for a possible appeal to the full slate of appellate court judges or to the Supreme court.
The FEC's 2005 regulations, now repelled by the DC Circuit Court, prevented political groups such as Emily's List from raising unlimited amounts of "soft money," donations by unions, corporations and individuals, for activities such as voter registration drives and issue advertising. Soft money could not be donated to candidates or used to advocate the election of a candidate.

During the 2004 campaign, political groups, known as 527s, aggressively raised and spent soft money to run advertisements that attacked and supported candidates. The 2005 rules were designed to rein in such behavior by requiring groups to rely more on "hard money," strictly limited donations by individuals or political action committees.

The FEC regulation required political committees to use hard money for at least 50 percent of their generic get-out-the-vote efforts and voter registration drives. It also compelled the organizations to use hard-money accounts to pay all costs of advertisements that referred to a federal candidate. If a group's solicitations mentioned a specific candidate, the regulations required them to treat the donation as hard money.

Judge Kavanaugh wrote that such campaign finance restrictions were unconstitutional because they limited speech by political groups such as Emily's List. The rules "do not pass muster," he wrote, adding that they did not serve an anti-corruption purpose and had been enacted to "better equalize the voices of citizens and groups who participate in the political process."

The challenge by Emily's List is just one of several assaults on campaign finance laws and regulations in the courts. Last week, in a case with high stakes for campaign finance advocates, the Supreme Court heard arguments in an appeal that seeks to strip decades of restrictions on corporate support of candidates. [LATimes, RawStory]

No comments:

Post a Comment