WASHINGTON – The Christian Coalition and a group of teen-agers have separately filed lawsuits challenging the constitutionality of restrictions on campaign spending signed into law by President Bush last week.
The two lawsuits filed in U.S. District Court in Washington join others submitted by the National Rifle Association and Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., a longtime opponent of the measure that bans unregulated "soft-money" contributions to the political parties.
Jay Sekulow, chief counsel of the American Center for Law and Justice, which filed the suit on behalf of six teen-agers and the Rev. Patrick J. Mahoney, said he expects a dozen suits brought against the new law. Opponents say the law violates First Amendment free-speech rights.
The teen-agers are contesting language that bars minors 17 years and younger from making political contributions. Mahoney is director of the Christian Defense Coalition, an anti-abortion activist organization.
Sekulow said the court may issue consolidation orders next week, with McConnell expected to be the lead plaintiff. Defending the law will be the Justice Department and attorneys for the sponsors of the legislation -- Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Russ Feingold, D-Wis., and Reps. Christopher Shays, R-Conn., and Martin Meehan, D-Mass.
The legal battle over the most comprehensive changes in campaign finance laws in a quarter-century is expected to move quickly to the Supreme Court.
Roberta Combs, president of the Christian Coalition, said her group is contesting provisions that they believe would make it illegal to send out voter guides before an election. The coalition sent out 70 million such guides during the 2000 election and "there is something very wrong with a law that prohibits the voter's right to know how members of Congress have voted on important pro-life and pro-family issues."
James Bopp Jr. of the James Madison Center for Free Speech, the coalition's attorney, said groups would be unable to ask candidates about their views because of "coordination" provisions restricting spending on political activities done with the cooperation of a candidate.
But Don Simon, general counsel for Common Cause, a leading supporter of the law, said it doesn't define "coordination," but gives the Federal Election Commission nine months to come up with new rules. "Until the FEC acts and there's a specific rule, it's premature to say that anybody's rights have been violated."
The suit on behalf of the teen-agers said they are "deeply and seriously interested in electoral politics" and that the ban on financial contributions deprives them of free-speech rights.
Fred Wertheimer of Democracy 21, a chief backer of the law, said that ban was necessary because of a track record of abuse when parents use their children as conduits to funnel money to candidates.
The NRA and McConnell are also challenging a part of the new law that bans the use of soft money to broadcast, in the 30 days before a primary or 60 days before a general election, "issue ads" that name a candidate, often with the purpose of attacking him.
Supporters say the law is constitutional because it does not ban issue ads; instead, it requires that they be paid for with regulated and limited "hard money" and that the source of the ads be disclosed.