With Campaign Finance Votes Increasingly Likely, ACLU Says Leading Proposals Are Doomed to Failure

July 22, 1999 12:00 am

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WASHINGTON — With floor votes looking increasingly likely this year, the American Civil Liberties Union today warned a House committee that current campaign finance proposals are doomed to failure in the courts. Agreeing that the political finance system badly needs reform, however, the ACLU said that Congress should focus instead on full public financing for federal elections.

In testimony before the House Administration Committee, Laura W. Murphy, Director of the ACLU’s Washington National Office, said that the current campaign finance regulations are “a system of unintended consequences, created by well-intentioned legislation borne out of the Watergate era.”

Most proposals to fix that system, however, would unconstitutionally restrict political speech and the rights of lawful permanent residents, who would be barred from participating in the political process, Murphy said.

“We are delighted to see that opposition to vigorous issue advocacy may be weakening in the Senate,” Murphy added. “But the leading campaign finance proposals in both chambers continue to present numerous problems.”

For example, a bill introduced by Reps. Christopher Shays (R-CT) and Martin Meehan (D-MA), which is the primary proposal under consideration in the House, would:

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

  • Chill free expression through burdensome reporting requirements and greatly expanded investigations by the Federal Election Commission.

  • Encourage discrimination against lawful permanent residents.

Murphy strongly requested that Congress seriously consider the idea of public financing for all federal elections. “Not withstanding the nay-sayers who denounce public financing,” 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 ballots had to be printed and paid for by the government to protect the integrity of the electoral process. 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 at:

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