WASHINGTON – The Justice Department has joined sponsors of the new campaign finance law in asking a federal court to suspend its ruling striking down some of the law's restrictions and upholding others.
Government attorneys defending the law asked the court Friday to halt its ruling from taking effect pending Supreme Court review of the case, and requested a temporary stay while it considers the longer-term stay request. The Justice Department (search), defending the law on behalf of it and the Federal Election Commission, sought the stays in consultation with the FEC.
"The big concern we had, which is addressed in the motion, is the chaos that would ensue if we had to try to devise a new regulatory regime consistent with the district court opinion, and then of course revise that six months from now or whenever the Supreme Court rules," FEC (search) Commissioner David Mason said.
The Justice Department told the lower court that letting its decision in the case take effect during appeals "would have tumultuous consequences for the nation's federal electoral system."
If the court doesn't stay its decision -- which would let political parties return to raising big "soft money" contributions -- "it is possible that thousands if not millions of dollars in soft-money transactions by the national committees will not be reported to the FEC" while appeals are pending, the department wrote.
The law's sponsors asked for a stay Thursday, arguing that it wasn't fair to expect campaigns to cope with three sets of rules, including the law that took effect Nov. 6, the lower court's ruling and an upcoming Supreme Court decision.
The lower court, ruling on dozens of lawsuits over the law's constitutionality, said last week that political parties could return to raising soft money and spend it on a range of party-building activities, including get-out-the-vote drives and overhead.
It upheld a ban on the solicitation of soft money by federal officeholders and candidates.
Groups suing to overturn parts of the law, including the AFL-CIO, National Rifle Association, the National Right to Life Committee and the Club for Growth, have asked the lower court to suspend at least part of its ruling on the law's political ad restrictions.
The court ruled unconstitutional a provision barring a range of interest groups, including those funded with corporate and union money, from airing issue ads mentioning federal candidates in the candidates' districts in the month before a primary and within two months of a general election.
It upheld backup rules barring the same groups from airing ads that promote, support, attack or oppose a candidate at any time.
Groups including the National Right to Life and the Club for Growth asked the court to block the government from enforcing both the 30-60 day ad restrictions and the fallback provision pending the Supreme Court's ruling, which isn't expected for several months.
The AFL-CIO made a similar request Friday.
The NRA and American Civil Liberties Union have asked the court to stay its decision upholding the fallback restrictions. If they succeed, the provision barring certain ads within 30 days of a primary and 60 days of a general election would kick in. The NRA says it opposes that, too, but prefers it to the backup rules because it isn't a congressional election year.
The Republican National Committee (search), among those suing to try to overturn the soft money ban, hasn't decided whether to support, oppose or take a neutral approach to the stay requests. It is trying to gauge whether the ruling would let it work with state parties and GOP campaigns in states with elections this fall, a Republican official said Friday.