Pro-Life Group Challenges Campaign Finance Law’s Advertising Ban
by Maria Gallagher
LifeNews.com Staff Writer
July 29, 2004
Madison, WI (LifeNews.com) — Wisconsin Right to Life has filed a legal challenge to a provision of the controversial McCain-Feingold campaign law, claiming that its ban on certain advertising violates freedom of speech.
"Now is the time for organizations like Wisconsin Right to Life to challenge a law that we believe infringes on United States citizens’ First Amendment right of freedom of speech," Barbara Lyons, Executive Director of Wisconsin Right to Life, said.
"The broadcast ban wrongly restricts citizens’ ability to learn about and influence on an upcoming vote in Congress," Lyons added.
Wisconsin Right to Life argues that the ads do not represent “electioneering," but "constitute bona fide grassroots lobbying."
In its suit, Wisconsin Right to Life says it should be allowed to run ads asking Wisconsin residents to contact Wisconsin senators Russell Feingold and Herbert Kohl and urge them to oppose the filibustering of President George W. Bush’s judicial nominees.
The TV and radio ads carry the tagline, “Contact Feingold and Kohl and tell them to oppose the filibuster."
Under McCain-Feingold, however, grassroots lobbying ads which mention a candidate’s name are not permitted 30 days before a primary or 60 days before a general election. Feingold is running for re-election, meaning that his name could not be mentioned in Wisconsin Right to Life’s ads — even though they are not political campaign ads.
The lawsuit states, "Grassroots lobbying is impossible without telling constituents to whom their call should be made."
But Wisconsin Right to Life is hardly alone in its opposition to the broadcast ban. The AFL-CIO, the American Civil Liberties Union, and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce are among the national groups that object to the advertising blackout required by McCain-Feingold.
The controversial campaign law passed Congress in March of 2002 and went into effect in November of 2002.
In December of 2003, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the broadcast ban, but left open the possibility that the ban would be unconstitutional when applied to certain kinds of ads.
The suit requests an injunction which would permit Wisconsin Right to Life to run its ads during the blackout period.
"The McCain-Feingold law drastically reduces the influence of the citizen of average means because the association of like-minded individuals is essential to effective participation in the public arena," said attorney James Bopp, who is representing the Wisconsin pro-life group in the suit.
"With the little guys locked in the dungeon of nonparticipation, the rich and powerful will run politics, much as they did before the adoption of the first and foremost campaign reform, the First Amendment," Bopp added. "The First Amendment protects the right of citizens to influence those in power on the critical issues of the day through grassroots lobbying."
Feingold’s campaign manager, George Aldrich, responded to the lawsuit by saying, "This is a gimmick designed to score political points during an election by an organization that has endorsed all three of our (major) potential Republican opponents."
But Wisconsin Right to Life insists the issue is free speech — not election year politics.
The group expects a response from the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia in mid-August.