Supreme Court Upholds Campaign Finance Law; ACLU Calls on Congress to Seek Real Solutions in Public Financing

December 10, 2003 12:00 am

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WASHINGTON — The American Civil Liberties Union today criticized the Supreme Court’s decision upholding major provisions of the McCain-Feingold campaign finance law as an unprecedented restriction on core political speech that is inconsistent with basic First Amendment values.

The ACLU is a non-partisan organization that has never endorsed a candidate in its 83-year history. After today’s decision, however, the ACLU runs the risk of criminal prosecution if it broadcasts an advertisement in the period preceding an election that urges voters to contact their Senator or Representative about important civil liberties legislation, if those officials also happen to be running for office.

Today’s decision also means that the ACLU will face new hurdles if it seeks to broadcast advertisements during the ongoing presidential campaign discussing the position of the various candidates on the civil liberties consequences of the war on terrorism.

“The notion that the government can tell an organization like the ACLU when and how it should address important civil liberties issues is a form of censorship masquerading as campaign finance reform,” said ACLU Executive Director Anthony D. Romero. “The fact that those restrictions have now been upheld by the Supreme Court is extremely disappointing.”

As even today’s decision recognizes, Romero noted, there is little likelihood that the new campaign finance restrictions will in fact reduce the flow of money into electoral politics. For that reason, he said, “the ACLU has repeatedly urged Congress to adopt a serious program of public financing for federal campaigns. We repeat that call today.”

“Today’s decision will do far more to restrict political speech than to curtail the influence of money on politics,” Romero concluded. “More speech should not be seen as a threat to our democracy, but sadly, that is the message of the Court’s decision.”

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