ACLU Strongly Supports Legislation To Repeal First Amendment Threats in Campaign Finance Law

February 12, 2004 12:00 am

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WASHINGTON – The American Civil Liberties Union today came out in strong support of legislation introduced by House Republicans to roll back the part of the 2001 campaign finance reform law banning advocacy advertising during the 30- and 60-day windows before primaries and general elections.

“While McCain-Feingold has failed to curtail the influence of money in electoral politics, it has succeeded in censoring when and how groups like the ACLU and the Christian Coalition can speak out on important civil liberties issues,” said Marvin Johnson, an ACLU Legislative Counsel. “This bill is essential in rebalancing the public’s right to a free marketplace of ideas, especially in politics, and the interests of electoral fairness and integrity.”

The legislation, introduced by Rep. Roscoe Bartlett (R-MD), would repeal the section of 2001’s Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act that prohibits advocacy groups from airing radio and television advertising that even mentions a candidate by name in the 30-day window before a primary and the 60-day window before a general election. The bill was announced at a news conference this afternoon on Capitol Hill.

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 NRA from running advertisements highlighting candidates’ positions on issues like civil liberties and gun control. 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 long argued that censoring public 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 Bartlett legislation are the National Rifle Association, Concerned Women for America and the Christian Coalition. Many more are expected to sign on.

“Sadly, more speech should never be seen as a harmful thing for our democracy – quite the contrary,” Johnson said. “Our history is one where censorship is the sidekick of corruption, not the other way around.”

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