ACLU Chastens Congress on Campaign Finance

May 5, 1999 12:00 am

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Wednesday, May 5, 1999

WASHINGTON — The American Civil Liberties Union today chastened Congress for continuing to focus on campaign finance proposals that are doomed to failure in the courts. Agreeing that political finance system badly needs reform, however, the ACLU said that Congress should focus instead on full public financing for federal elections.

In testimony before a House Judiciary subcommittee, Laura W. Murphy, Director of the ACLU’s Washington National Office, said that the current campaign finance regulations are “a system of unintended consequences, created by well-intentioned legislation borne out of the Watergate era.”

Most proposals to fix that system, however, would unconstitutionally restrict political speech and the rights of lawful permanent residents who would be barred from participating in the political process, Murphy said.

For example, legislation introduced by Reps. Christopher Shays (R-CT) and Martin Meehan (D-MA), which is the primary campaign finance proposal under consideration in the House, would:

  • Restrict the right of individuals and organizations to express their opinions about elected officials and issues through unprecedented limits on speech.
  • Chill free expression through burdensome reporting requirements and greatly expanded investigations by the Federal Election Commission.
  • Encourage discrimination against lawful permanent residents.

Murphy concluded her testimony with a strong request that Congress take seriously the idea of public financing for all federal elections.

“Not withstanding the nay-sayers who pronounce public financing dead on arrival,” she said, “we remind Congress that our nation once had a system where private citizens and political parties printed their own ballots.”

It later became clear, Murphy continued, that to protect the integrity of the electoral process, ballots had to be printed and paid for by the government. For the same reason, the public treasury pays for voting machines, polling booths and registrars.

“We take it as a fundamental premise that elections are a public, not private, process,” Murphy said. “If we are fed up with a system that allows too much private influence, then we must fix it by acknowledging that the government must fully finance elections.”

The ACLU’s testimony can be found at:

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