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“I swear, by my life and my love of it, that I will never live for the sake of another man, nor ask another man to live for mine.”     Ayn Rand

March 26, 2010

Federal Court Gives Freedom Of Speech Another Victory Over McCain-Feingold

by Doug Mataconis

A Federal Appeals Court in Washington, D.C. put another nail into the coffin of the monstrosity that is the McCain-Feingold campaign finance law:

A federal appeals court on Friday handed another victory to conservative opponents of campaign-finance restrictions, striking down limits on individual contributions to independent groups who want to use the money for or against candidates in federal elections.

But in its unanimous decision, the nine-judge U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia also said that a conservative group called SpeechNow.org must disclose its donors and other details of its finances to the Federal Election Commission, a requirement that the group had sought to overturn.

Steve Simpson, an attorney who argued the case on behalf of SpeechNow.org, called the decision voiding contribution limits “a tremendous victory for free speech” and said it “ensures that all Americans can band together to make their voices heard during elections.” At the same time, the group decried the decision on disclosure and signaled that it would appeal the issue to the Supreme Court.

The ruling also amounts to a mixed bag for beleagured advocates of campaign-finance restrictions, who are relieved by the disclosure requirements but angered by the court’s decision to strike down limits on contributions to independent political groups. The decision follows from the Supreme Court’s landmark decision in January in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, which found that corporations are akin to individuals when it comes to political speech and are free to spend as much as they like for or against candidates.

The libertarian Institute for Justice represented the Plaintiffs in this case and had this to say in a press release issued today:

Institute for Justice Senior Attorney Bert Gall said, “Critics of the Citizens United ruling should applaud the decision in SpeechNow.org v. FEC, which guarantees individuals and unincorporated groups the same First Amendment right to fund effective speech that Citizens United guaranteed for corporations and unions.”

Unfortunately, although the court’s ruling frees SpeechNow.org to raise money and speak, the court upheld other burdensome requirements identical to those struck down in Citizens United. Gall said, “Laws that are unconstitutionally burdensome for General Motors and the AFL-CIO have to be unconstitutional when applied to a volunteer group like SpeechNow.org. The court’s ruling that SpeechNow.org must comply with political committee regulations is just flat wrong.”

Bradley A. Smith, CCP’s chairman and a former FEC chairman, added, “It’s unfortunate that the court did not recognize how political committee status regulation by the FEC places restrictive burdens on grassroots political groups. The court’s decision means that the FEC regulatory regime will continue to favor large, established special interests over ad hoc groups of like-minded citizens who gather together to enhance their voices in politics.”

Chip Mellor, president and general counsel of the Institute for Justice, said, “With this ruling, the D.C. Circuit has moved us one step closer to ending this nation’s failed 35-year-old experiment with campaign finance ‘reform’ and restoring the First Amendment to its proper place. The era when incumbent politicians could tinker with freedom of speech to insulate themselves from public criticism is coming to an end.”

And, when that day comes, it will be good for all of us.

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