Bush Signs Campaign Finance Bill, Lawsuits Filed

July 7, 2008 - 8:28 PM

Capitol Hill (CNSNews.com) - President Bush signed into law the first significant changes to campaign finance rules since the 1970s Wednesday. But opponents of those revisions have already mounted their legal challenges to the new law.

"I believe that this legislation, although far from perfect, will improve the current financing system for Federal campaigns," Bush said in a statement.

The president cited three key components of the "Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act" (BCRA) he says will improve the campaign finance system:

- preventing unions and corporations from making unregulated "soft-money" contributions;
- raising the limits on individual contributions; and
- expanding contribution disclosure requirements and compelling speedier compliance with existing regulations.

"These provisions ... will result in an election finance system that encourages greater individual participation, and provides the public more accurate and timely information, than does the present system," Bush claimed.

But the president also took issue with other provisions of the legislation.

"I believe individual freedom to participate in elections should be expanded, not diminished," he said, "and when individual freedoms are restricted, questions arise under the First Amendment."

Specifically, Bush questioned limiting individual contributions to political parties in connection with federal elections and what he called "the broad ban on issue advertising."

"Taken as a whole, this bill improves the current system of financing for Federal campaigns, and therefore I have signed it into law," he said.

"I expect that the courts will resolve these legitimate legal questions as appropriate under the law," Bush predicted.

The president would not have to wait long for that prediction to be proven accurate.

The National Rifle Association was waiting when the federal court for the District of Columbia opened its doors Wednesday morning.

"We have filed suit to invalidate this unconstitutional infringement on the First Amendment rights of the NRA and our four million members nationwide," said Wayne LaPierre, NRA executive vice president, and James Jay Baker, executive director of the NRA's Institute for Legislative Action in a joint statement.

"The authors of this law have delivered a clear and straightforward message not only to NRA but to all American citizens. That message is this, 'Keep your mouths shut. Stay out of our political debates. Be quiet,'" the statement continued.

"Our response is this: the First Amendment protects us from such directives from the government. The First Amendment does not allow Congress to make laws which deny us the right to speak out on issues, the right of our members to associate together on public policy issues and the right to petition our government for redress of grievances. That is what this lawsuit is about," they added.

The chief congressional opponent of BCRA, Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), also filed suit in federal court to block the Federal Election Commission and the Federal Communications Commission from enforcing the new law.

"Today's filing is a first step in what is becoming an evolving omnibus constitutional attack spearheaded by Senator McConnell," said Judge Kenneth Starr, former U.S. Solicitor General, Whitewater Independent Counsel, and lead attorney for McConnell and six other plaintiffs.

Starr, working on behalf of the Southeastern Legal Foundation, is also representing Rep. Bob Barr (R-Ga.), the National Right-to-Work Committee, Americans for Tax Reform, ProEnglish, and the 60 Plus Association.

A statement by the Foundation says McConnell's lawsuit raises a host of critical constitutional questions regarding the new campaign finance law, pointedly referring to it as legislation that creates "a new crime of incitement to political action."

The primary sponsors of BCRA, Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Russ Feingold (D-Wis.), and Reps. Martin Meehan (D-Mass.) and Christopher Shays (R-Conn.), have announced their intention to intervene in the lawsuits to assist the Department of Justice, which is charged with defending it in court. Attorney Seth Waxman, also a former U.S. Solicitor General, will lead the members' legal efforts.

"We're confident the landmark campaign finance reform bill signed into law today by President Bush will stand up to any constitutional challenge in court," the four said in a joint statement.

But the NRA views the potential outcome much differently.

"The law imposes severe civil and criminal penalties on citizens who have the audacity to speak out on issues of concern," the group explained in its statement, "and we do not believe that the Constitution of the United States of America and the U.S. Supreme Court can possibly allow such a result."

Under a special provision of BCRA, the lawsuits will be considered under "expedited review," meaning challenges will be heard out of sequence from the normal court calendar because of the potential impact on plaintiffs.

E-mail a news tip to Jeff Johnson.

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