ACLU Board Addresses Campaign Finance Policy

April 19, 2010 2:05 pm

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NEW YORK – The American Civil Liberties Union’s National Board of Directors Sunday affirmed its longstanding opposition to limits on campaign expenditures. The policy continues to recognize that limits on spending by individuals or organizations for the purpose of advocating causes or candidates may directly impinge on freedom of speech protected by the First Amendment. The Board did, however, vote to revise its policy on campaign finance regulation in the following two ways:

  • The policy accepts spending limits as a condition of voluntary public financing plans. The ACLU supports such plans as long as they ensure candidates have a true choice as to whether to participate and provide sufficient and equitable funding for all legally qualified candidates to run an effective campaign.
  • The policy permits reasonable limits on campaign contributions to candidates. This contrasts with prior policy, which opposed all such limits. The revised policy acknowledges that very large contributions to candidates may lead to undue influence or corruption and, at a minimum, have the appearance of impropriety and undermine public confidence in the electoral system’s integrity.

With Sunday’s vote of 36-30, the ACLU continues to oppose spending limits that are not part of voluntary public financing plans. The policy also maintains the organization’s longstanding position in favor of the disclosure of large contributions to candidates as long as the disclosure does not have a chilling effect on political participation.

Sunday’s decision follows a careful study by a committee formed in 2007 to review the ACLU’s campaign finance policy. The committee made its first report to the ACLU National Board in June 2009 and continued to report at the October 2009 and January 2010 National Board meetings. Over that time period, committee members, as well as members of the full ACLU National Board, engaged in extensive deliberations and study and heard from a panel of renowned First Amendment experts representing a broad array of diverse perspectives.

The ACLU’s Board has been debating the issue of campaign finance for more than 40 years, and since 1970 has taken up the issue on its agenda at least 22 times. Over these years, the ACLU has revised its policy several times to address the competing interests at stake in the context of an ever-evolving political and media landscape. The ACLU’s ongoing mission in this and all matters is to consider all the civil liberties implications at stake and to take the position that is most consistent with protecting them to the fullest extent possible.

In sum, the ACLU’s new policy requires that any regulation of the electoral and campaign process must be fair, reasonable, understandable and not unduly burdensome. It must also assure integrity and inclusivity, encourage participation and protect rights of association while at the same time allowing for robust, full and free discussion and debate by and about the candidates and issues of the day.

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