Campaign Finance Reformers Seek Stay of Fed Court Ruling

Sponsors of the new campaign finance law (search) said Thursday they will ask a federal court to suspend its entire ruling on the new campaign finance law, including its decision striking down a ban on the raising of big corporate and union "soft money" political contributions.

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., (search) a sponsor of the law, said that while proponents of the legislation were pleased with some of the court's ruling, such as its decision on some political ad restrictions, they oppose other aspects and do not think it's fair to change the fund-raising rules several times during an election cycle.

"We don't feel that's fair to the campaigns and the candidates to operate under three different sets of rules," said McCain, referring to the law that went into effect Nov. 6, the lower court ruling and the expected decision by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Ruling on dozens of lawsuits over the law's constitutionality, the court last week said political parties could return to raising soft money. It said they could spend it on a range of party-building activities, including get-out-the-vote drives, overhead, and -- according to some party lawyers -- possibly ads on political issues, as long as they do not feature federal candidates.

The special three-judge panel handling the case also said national, state and local parties could solicit any kind of money for non-party political organizations. Its Friday ruling upheld a ban on the solicitation of soft money by federal officeholders and candidates, including the president and members of Congress.

The law's sponsors are the second group to ask the lower court to stay at least part of its ruling until the Supreme Court rules on appeals in the case. The Justice Department and Federal Election Commission, (search) defending the law on the government's behalf, were still considering Thursday whether to seek a stay.

The National Rifle Association on Wednesday urged the lower court to stay its decision to uphold broad restrictions on interest-group political ads in the law.

"We are injured every day this is not overturned and deprived of our constitutional freedoms as citizens and as an association," NRA executive vice president Wayne LaPierre said of the part of the court's ruling on the law he wants blocked.

The NRA (search) told the court that without a stay, it would be a violation of the law for it to run an ad it wants to air in Arizona urging McCain to vote for legislation blocking lawsuits against gun dealers whose products are used in crimes. The ad also criticizes Democratic Sen. Charles Schumer of New York for opposing the legislation.

Both McCain and Schumer are up for re-election in November 2004. McCain is a sponsor of the campaign finance law.

The federal court gave the plaintiffs and defendants in the case until noon Friday to seek a stay. Each side then has a few more days to weigh in on those requests. The court is not expected to rule until Wednesday afternoon at the earliest.

The NRA and dozens of other groups filed lawsuits last year asking the court to overturn the new law's restrictions on interest-group political ads, arguing they violated free-speech and other constitutional rights.

The court last Friday struck down one broad ban on election-time political ads by a range of interest groups but upheld backup restrictions.

The court ruled unconstitutional a provision barring a number of interest groups, including those 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.

It upheld fallback rules that bar the same 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 say what it means to promote, support, attack or oppose a candidate.

The NRA asked the court to stay its decision upholding the fallback restrictions. If it succeeds, the rules barring certain ads within 30 days of a primary and 60 days of a general election would kick in; the group says that while it opposes that provision, too, it's preferable to the fallback provision right now because no Senate election is imminent.

The NRA has filed an appeal with the U.S. Supreme Court seeking to overturn all the law's political ad restrictions.