Unlikely Groups Agree: Shays-Meehan Will Shut Down Citizen Group Speech

February 13, 2002 12:00 am

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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE WASHINGTON — Saying it would muzzle political speech essential to a vital democracy, the American Civil Liberties Union today joined with an odd bedfellows coalition of public policy advocacy groups, including the National Right to Life Committee and the National Rifle Association, in opposition to the Shays-Meehan campaign finance reform bill.

“The diversity of our coalition is testimony to the flaws in the Shays-Meehan concept of campaign finance reform,” said Laura W. Murphy, Director of the ACLU Washington National Office. “The bill would, if passed, unconstitutionally muzzle essential political speech.”

The Shays-Meehan campaign finance reform bill (HR 2356) is being considered today in the House of Representatives. The Senate passed a version of the legislation last June.

In a joint letter yesterday, the ACLU and its allies charged supporters of Shays-Meehan with trying to use this bill as a way to make it more difficult, or even impossible, for non-profit advocacy groups and ordinary individuals to make known their political views. The coalition pointed out that the Supreme Court and lower federal courts have repeatedly upheld the virtually unfettered right of individuals and watchdog groups to publicize candidates’ voting records and stands on issues before, during and after any election. Under Shays-Meehan, organizations would have to form separate political action committees if they even dare mention a candidate’s name 30 days before a primary or 60 days before a general election, Murphy said.

In another letter today, the ACLU also urged opposition to an amendment to the main bill, offered by Rep. Dick Armey (R-TX), that would ban campaign contributions and independent expenditures in federal elections by lawful permanent residents, saying that it would infringe on the constitutional guarantee of free speech that extends to all persons within the borders of the U.S. regardless of citizenship.

“The irony is that if Shays-Meehan were public law today, many forms of advocacy by groups that support the bill — such as Common Cause — would be illegal in many states,” Murphy said. “If it passes, advocacy groups and crucial political ideas and opinions will be completely excised from the public debate.”

“If the ACLU wanted to use a broadcast ad to urge a ‘Congressman Jones’ to simply vote against a partial birth abortion bill, under Shays-Meehan we would be forced to form a partisan political action committee, a move completely at odds with our core policy of strict non-partisanship,” Murphy added.

The ACLU has long supported alternative campaign finance reform measures, such as a system of public financing designed to level the playing field. The ACLU believes that public financing is the best, most constitutionally acceptable method of fixing the problems with America’s current system of campaign financing.

Copies of the Letters:

Click here to view a coopy of the Coalition Letter to House Urging Opposition to Shays-Meehan Bill

Click here for a copy of the Letter to the House Urging Opposition to the Armey Amendment to Shays-Meehan Bill

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