ACLU Urges House to Oppose Shays-Meehan Campaign Finance Legislation

September 14, 1999 12:00 am

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WASHINGTON — Saying that it would violate free speech rights guaranteed by the First Amendment, the American Civil Liberties Union today urged the House of Representatives to reject a high-profile campaign finance proposal.

The House is scheduled to vote today on legislation introduced by Reps. Christopher Shays, R-CT, and Martin Meehan, D-MA. In a letter distributed to the House yesterday, the ACLU said the Shays-Meehan measure should be rejected because it contains provisions that would:

  • Restrict the right of individuals and organizations to express their opinions about elected officials and issues through unprecedented limits on voter guides and citizen commentary.

  • Stymie the development of new political parties and restrict grassroots activities of existing political parties by restricting campaign contributions known as “soft money.”

  • Chill free expression through burdensome reporting requirements and greatly expanded Federal Election Commission investigative and enforcement authority.

  • Encourage discrimination against new Americans and lawful permanent residents.

Rather than continuing to focus on campaign finance proposals that are doomed to failure in the courts, the ACLU 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,” said Laura W. Murphy, Director of the ACLU’s Washington National Office, “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 some say allows too much private influence, then we must fix it by acknowledging that the government must fully finance elections.”

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