July 19, 1999

July 19, 1999 | News Releases on Legal Issues

Campaign Finance Bill Would Limit Free Speech, Legal Experts Say

WASHINGTON, JULY 19, 1999-Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., wants the Senate to vote as quickly as possible on the campaign finance reform bill he is sponsoring with Sen. Russell Feingold, D-Wis., but lawmakers should question a measure that places unconstitutional restrictions on free speech, says a new Heritage Foundation paper.

According to James Bopp Jr., an attorney with Bopp, Coleson & Bostrom and general counsel for the James Madison Center for Free Speech, the McCain-Feingold bill violates past Supreme Court rulings that limit campaign finance restrictions to "a very narrow class of speech: explicit or express words advocating the election or defeat of clearly identified candidates-such as 'vote for' or 'elect.'"

The Court has held that all other election-related speech, including mentions of a candidate's voting record or positions, is protected as "issue advocacy," says Bopp, who has won 20 of 22 state and federal election-law cases. Bopp says the McCain-Feingold bill, which bans unregulated "soft money" contributions to political parties, goes too far in its efforts to reduce the "corrupting influence of big money" and would surely be overturned by the Court.

Congress can take a number of legal steps to address legitimate concerns about current campaign finance laws, says Bopp, who is testifying Thursday before the Committee on House Administration on the constitutionality of campaign-finance reform proposals. For example, raising or eliminating the limits on "hard money" contributions would allow politicians to spend more time governing and less time raising money. Bopp recommends lifting the limit on individual contributions from $1,000 to at least $2,500 (if only to account for inflation), and letting individuals and PACs contribute up to $50,000 to political parties-more than twice the amount currently allowed. Congress should also strike limits on how much political parties can spend on their own candidates, he says.

"Such true reforms not only are constitutional, but they also reinforce the sovereignty of the people over government officials and decrease the threat of corruption by making it more likely that any influence will be exposed," Bopp writes.

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