Plaintiff Charges Justice Department With Intimidation Tactics

One of the plaintiffs in a lawsuit charging that the new campaign finance law is unconstitutional is accusing the Justice Department of trying to bully the group by asking for all of its contributors' names and addresses -- a request it is not willing to accommodate.

Phil Kent, president of the Southeastern Legal Foundation, one of 71 plaintiffs and co-counsels in the McConnell v. Federal Elections Commission lawsuit now being argued before a three-judge panel in a U.S. District Court, said the Department of Justice has made a number of unreasonable demands, but asking for its donor list is unconstitutional.

Every freedom-loving American would be angry," he said in a letter to SLF supporters this week. "In fact, I will go to jail rather than divulge the names of the Southeastern Legal Foundation contributors to the Justice Department attorneys."

But Charles Miller, a spokesman for the Justice Department, tells quite a different story.

"We never, ever asked them for addresses or names of contributors," he said Friday. "In fact, our attorney specifically told them that we specifically didn't want them." He would not comment on further matters relating to the discovery phase of the case.

SLF is a Georgia-based public interest law firm that has been involved in several high profile cases, most notably in its successful efforts to get former President Bill Clinton disbarred.

Kent said that the request came during the discovery process of the trial and was among 29 government requests for information that the SLF deems unreasonable and part of a "fishing expedition" to intimidate the group and to try to uncover dirt about its motives in the case.

"It’s a waste of taxpayer money," Kent told "A fishing expedition that has nothing to do with the case."

According to Kent, the Justice Department’s 29 requests of the group include a copy of every fundraising letter SLF mailed between 1995 and 2001, all records pertaining to radio and television ads purchased between the same time period and any SLF solicitation letters signed by a member of Congress in that time.

He said the above requests, while do-able, were "a waste of time."

"I think we would find support from plenty of other groups on this," he said, noting that SLF was protected from disclosing its donor base by its 501c3 tax-exempt status.

He said he found it ironic that the government has yet to respond to the plaintiffs' requests for discovery.

Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., the principal plaintiff in the case, is joined by 70 other groups, including such odd bedfellows as the American Civil Liberties Union and the National Rifle Association, who charge that the campaign finance bill signed by President Bush in March violates freedom of speech.

The law, which places a ban on all soft money to political parties, was signed after a massive political effort by Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Russell Feingold, D-Wis, who are serving as interveners on the government’s behalf in the case.

The plaintiffs say the law’s ban on "issue advertising" by special interest groups 30 days before a primary and 60 days before a general election is unconstitutional and hope to take the issue all the way to the Supreme Court if need be.