Bill Would Reduce Anti-Free Speech Effects of Campaign Finance Law

National   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Feb 17, 2004   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

Bill Would Reduce Anti-Free Speech Effects of Campaign Finance Law

by Paul Nowak Editor
February 17, 2004

Washington, DC ( — Campaign reform legislation that prohibits organizations other than political action committees from mentioning candidates in advertising before primaries and elections has stifled pro-life groups. That’s why pro-life Congressman Roscoe Bartlett (R-MD) has introduced a bill that would restore the First Amendment Rights of the excluded organizations.

Currently, the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002 includes a provision that prohibits non-PAC-funded issue advocacy and references to candidates in broadcast advertisements 30 days prior to primaries and 60 days prior to general elections.

That means pro-life groups that are not political action committees couldn’t run advertising asking people to contact Congress to support specific legislation if the ad mentions a Congressman who is a candidate. Nor would ads thanking elected officials for their votes for pro-life bills be allowed.

Rep. Bartlett’s bill would repeal that provision.

"I am firmly committed to protecting our Constitution," said Rep. Bartlett. "As stated in the First Amendment to the Constitution; ‘Congress shall make no law . . . abridging the freedom of speech’. It is clearly a violation of the First Amendment to restrict organized group communications (including informational and issue advocacy radio or TV broadcast communications) and limit what people can say about a candidate and when they may choose to speak out.

"Federal government restrictions of Americans’ access to information about political candidates would be anathema to our Nation’s founders and eviscerates the central purpose of the First Amendment’s guarantee of free speech — the protection of political speech," added Rep. Bartlett. "This is a right and a privilege extended to all Americans that must be preserved and protected."

Similar state laws have muzzled pro-life groups, such as Arizona Right to Life, which filed a lawsuit in an attempt to remove a state law provision prohibiting them from running ads 16 weeks prior to a general election unless the organizations are registered with the Secretary of State’s Office and file campaign finance reports.

"Arizona Right to Life is not a political action committee and should not be forced to register as a political action committee," James Bopp, whose Indiana-based law firm represented Arizona Right to Life said. "Arizona Right to Life has the right under the First Amendment to talk about what politicians are doing, the positions they’ve adopted, and this, of course, prohibits any of that."

Despite the fact that a judge dismissed the suit because in his opinion Arizona Right to Life would not be affected by the statute, Arizona Right to Life feared it might be interpreted differently when the group tried to educate voters.

"The mere fact that the law is on the books overwhelmingly quells our right to free speech," Shane Wikfors, Executive Director of Arizona Right to Life told "We are left with no way to inform voters on critical right to life issues."