DOJ Plans to Appeal Federal Court Ruling

The Justice Department (search) and congressional sponsors of the new campaign finance law notified a federal court Monday that they will appeal its ruling striking down some of the new restrictions.

Sponsors -- including Reps. Christopher Shays, R-Conn., and Martin Meehan, D-Mass. -- informed a special three-judge federal court panel that they will appeal its Friday ruling to the Supreme Court (search). The Justice Department, which is defending the law on behalf of the government, filed a similar notice.

Acting on a cornerstone of the law, the court struck down part of a ban on the raising of soft money, corporate and union contributions of any size and unlimited donations of any source.

Political parties can return to raising soft money and can spend it on party-building costs like get-out-the-vote drives and overhead, but not for issue ads or helping specific candidates.

The law's sponsors contend the soft money ban is crucial to eliminating the corrupting influence of big contributions in politics. They want the Supreme Court to uphold that and other aspects of the law in their entirety.

The court also struck down a broad ban on election-time political ads by interest groups. That barred a range of groups -- sometimes financed with corporate and union money -- from airing issue ads mentioning federal candidates in those candidates' districts in the month before a primary and within two months of a general election.

The court upheld backup rules blocking many groups from airing ads that promote, support, attack or oppose a candidate at any time. It's unclear how far interest groups can go when featuring candidates in ads because the law doesn't specify what it means to promote, support, attack or oppose a candidate.

The lead plaintiff arguing much of the law is unconstitutional, Republican Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, notified the lower court and Supreme Court on Friday night that he will appeal the court's ruling.

Meanwhile, attorneys for the government, the law's sponsors and several interest groups are considering whether to seek a stay of the court's ruling. The government and the law's sponsors wanted the lower court to uphold all of the law; interest groups, including the National Rifle Association (search) and the AFL-CIO, wanted it to strike down the political ad restrictions entirely.

Among the court's other findings, it upheld a requirement that interest groups airing political ads clearly identify themselves as the ad's sponsors.

The law has been expected to wind up before the Supreme Court since Congress passed it and the President signed it last year. The high court is expected to hear the appeals late this summer or this fall, setting the rules for the 2004 presidential election and beyond.