ACLU Delighted at Inclusion of Progressive Groups in Fight Against Shays-Meehan

July 12, 2001 12:00 am

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WASHINGTON — The American Civil Liberties Union today welcomed its longtime progressive allies — the Alliance for Justice and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees — into the coalition of opponents to the constitutionally questionable Shays-Meehan campaign finance reform bill.

“Our first freedoms demand that we be able to speak our mind on political issues in the public arena, something that Shays-Meehan would greatly limit,” said Laura W. Murphy, Director of the Washington National Office of the ACLU. “This isn’t reform, it’s a muzzle.”

The Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2001 (H.R. 2356), popularly known as the Shays-Meehan bill, is set to be debated today in the House of Representatives along with another campaign finance measure introduced by Reps. Bob Ney, R-OH and Al Wynn, D-MD. Calling it “less constitutionally problematic” than Shays-Meehan, the ACLU, nonetheless, has not endorsed the Ney bill.

At a news conference this morning with its new allies, the ACLU pointed to Shays-Meehan’s restriction on so-called “soft money” and the bill’s redefinition of express advocacy to include most issue advocacy as the ingredients in the measure most likely to injure American freedoms.

Murphy said that the soft-money restriction would greatly weaken the ability of American political parties to support their candidates for office as well as damage their ability to engage in activities designed to encourage political debate and empower the electorate such as voter registration drives, voter education, issue development, and candidate recruitment.

The express advocacy redefinition would, in practice, render many corporations, unions, not-for-profit organizations, and ordinary citizens unable to comment on a candidate’s position on a particular issue of interest, speech that has traditionally been protected by the Constitution. The redefinition would also require wide-ranging disclosure of information to the government on both private individuals and organizations engaging in issue advocacy.

The ACLU has long supported campaign finance reform measures that do not injure free speech or freedom of expression, including a publicly financed common floor designed to put all candidates on equal footing and vouchers for low-cost broadcast and print advertising.

“You can’t encourage vital political debate in America by restricting political speech,” Murphy said. “The inclusion of more of our progressive allies in opposition to Shays-Meehan serves to highlight just how obvious this is.”

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