WASHINGTON – Campaign finance reform has not even been through both chambers of Congress and already opponents are looking at legal maneuvers to throw it off the books.
Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., chairman of the Senate Rules and Administration Committee, said Wednesday that the McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform bill that passed the Senate earlier this week is so constitutionally suspect that he is willing to fight it all the way to the Supreme Court.
"McCain-Feingold is a target-rich environment for challenges in court," McConnell said. "I think we need to be ready to go just in case it moves quickly."
McConnell met Wednesday with lawyers and legislative directors from nine different organizations from the ACLU to the Christian Coalition. All were invited to meet with McConnell to discuss whether they would be willing to join a lawsuit to throw out McCain-Feingold.
The bill still has yet to be debated in the House of Representatives, where it faces an uncertain fate. If it gets through the House, the bill would likely have to go back to the Senate for a conference on compromise language before it would be sent to the president for his signature. President Bush has said he would like to sign a bill changing the campaign finance system, but will judge its merits after it reaches his desk.
Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., co-author of the legislation, had no comment on McConnell's activities at the time this was published.
Several lawyers who have previously litigated campaign finance reform laws joined McConnell's powwow and outlined some of the arguments against the current bill.
Attorney Bob Burchfield argued that political parties, such as the Democratic National Committee and Republican National Committee, are entitled under Supreme Court rulings to the "very broadest protections on their speech and associations."
And attorney Jan Baran argued that the bill's hard-dollar contribution limit of $6,000 for candidates running against millionaires but $2,000 for others, calls into question the whole rationale for limiting individual contributions.
"That provision casts into doubt the constitutionality of any contribution less than $6,000. You can't impose a $1,000 contribution limit or a $2,000 contribution limit and say 'you have to have a limit that low because it is necessary to prevent corruption' when elsewhere in the same law you have a limit that says 'well, actually if we're challenged by someone with a lot of money we won't be corrupted if we take $6,000 from our supporters,'" Baran said.
James Bopp, Jr., general counsel for the James Madison Center for Free Speech, argued that one of the provisions in the bill amounts to a "coordination trap" that curtails groups from mentioning candidates' names in their advertising or commenting on legislation within 60 days of a general election and 30 days of a primary. The law makes it impossible for groups to lobby for or against a bill that may be under consideration close to an election.
Bopp gave the example of Common Cause, which recently backed the campaign finance legislation with broadcast advertisements. If they had done so close to an election, they would have been violating the very law that they were supporting with their ads.
"We have even examples recently of the reformers running ads that under their own legislation would be a federal crime if done," he said.
McConnell gave no word on other options he is considering nor an estimate on how much a legal battle would cost.