ACLU Says Congress Must Recognize Speech Implications of Campaign Finance

April 26, 2000 12:00 am

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WASHINGTON — With citizen involvement in the nation’s political processes exploding through the growth of the Internet, the American Civil Liberties Union today strongly reiterated its traditional appeal to Congress to recognize the free speech implications of efforts to reform campaign finance laws.

In testimony before a Senate panel today, Laura W. Murphy, Director of the ACLU’s Washington National Office, said that Congress must not underestimate the impact that new federal regulations of campaign activity would have on political speech in both the “virtual” and “real” worlds.

“This is where the big debate emerges,” Murphy said. “At the same time we are seeing hundreds of thousands of Americans newly interested and participating in politics through the Internet, Congress repeatedly attempts to pass legislation that would strike at the core of the freedoms that distinguish us from other democracies around the world.”

The leading campaign finance proposals, Murphy said, would restrict the right of individuals and organizations to express their opinions about elected officials and issues through unprecedented limits on speech. They would also chill free expression through burdensome reporting requirements and greatly expanded investigations by the Federal Elections Commission.

Instead of repeatedly trying to adopt restrictive legislation, Murphy urged Congress to 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.”

Murphy’s testimony can be found online at:

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