ACLU Marks Start of General Election Campaign Ad "Black Out" Period; Renews Call To Repeal First Amendment Threats in Campaign Finance Law

September 8, 2004 12:00 am

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ACLU Marks Start of General Election Campaign Ad “Black Out” Period; Renews Call To Repeal First Amendment Threats in Campaign Finance Law


WASHINGTON – The American Civil Liberties Union today joined with lawmakers in marking the start of the 60-day “black out” period before the November general election during which “electioneering communication” advertisements by labor unions, advocacy groups and corporations are forbidden.

“Government-sanctioned censorship for the general election started on September 4,” said Marvin Johnson, an ACLU Legislative Counsel. “While campaign finance laws have done little to curtail the influence of outside money in elections, they have succeeded in muzzling groups like the ACLU and the NRA from speaking out on the important issues of the day.”

The ACLU today joined Congressman Roscoe Bartlett (R-MD-6) and Senator Saxby Chambliss (R-GA) at a news conference noting the “black out” period, and renewed its call for passage of the ‘First Amendment Restoration Act’ [H.R. 3801/S. 2702], which would repeal the section of 2001 Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act that prohibits advocacy groups from airing radio and television advertising that mention a candidate by name in the 30-day window before a primary and the 60-day window before a general election.

The so-called “issue advocacy ban” – ostensibly designed to stop attack ads funded by bogus front organizations – has the practical effect of muzzling groups like the ACLU and the Christian Coalition from running advertisements highlighting candidates’ positions on issues like civil liberties. The ban even comes into effect if that candidate is an incumbent, and the ad in question was simply meant to highlight his or her voting record on an issue.

The ACLU has long opposed such a ban in favor of public financing of elections. Along with an array of coalition partners, many from the right wing of the ideological spectrum, the ACLU has argued that censoring advertising – or requiring the onerous disclosure of donors and membership information, which is mandated if such issue ads are to be run – will do little to remove corruption from the electoral system.

In addition to the ACLU, among the many organizations already endorsing the ‘First Amendment Restoration Act’ are the American Conservative Union, National Rifle Association, Concerned Women for America and the Christian Coalition.

“Censoring groups from speaking their minds does little to end corruption in election activities,” the ACLU’s Johnson said. “A free and open society can only benefit by promoting a system that allows for the free exchange of ideas – stopping that flow only hurts the average American.”

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