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Battle Over Campaign Finance Reform Heats Up

Just a little over a year ago, President Bush signed into law the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act (BCRA) of 2002 (see PIA Connection, May...
June 10, 2003

New Law Faces Court Challenge

By Kellie Bray
Director of Political Affairs
PIA National

Just a little over a year ago, President Bush signed into law the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act (BCRA) of 2002 (see PIA Connection, May 2002). This law went into effect the day after the 2002 General Elections on November 5, 2002. The main provisions of the BCRA, or McCain-Feingold as the law is often referred, contained the following major changes:

  • Prohibits national party committees from raising "soft money." Soft money is often large, unrestricted political donations by individuals, corporations, unions and others.
  • Restricts "issue ads" from airing on TV and radio within 30 days of a primary and 60 days of the general election if they name a federal candidate, are funded with corporate or union contributions and target a candidate's district.
  • Increases the limit on "hard money." Hard money is limited and regulated contributions from individuals for direct use by candidates. Individuals under BCRA can now contribute $2,000 per candidate per election, doubled from the $1,000 cap before the law.

Before the ink was dry from the President's signature on BCRA, longtime campaign reform foe Senator Mitch McConnell (R-KY) filed a complaint in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia. This began the legal struggles that continue to shape what will be the final version of the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002.

Three Judge Panel Says, "No, Yes, Stay."

On May 2, 2003, a three-judge panel in federal court issued a 1,600-page ruling finding parts of the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act unconstitutional. Among the highlights of the ruling are:

  • National parties may use soft money for get-out-the-vote efforts, voter identification, etc.
  • National parties may not use soft money for ads that support, oppose, attack or promote a federal candidate.
  • The 30 and 60-day restrictions on electioneering communications were struck down.
  • The court adopted its own definition of electioneering communication, however that version is even more vague than the original version. In part the new definition reads, "Any broadcast communication that promotes or supports, attacks or opposes anyone for federal office regardless if it expressly advocates the candidate."

Less than three weeks after their decision, the same panel ruled by a vote of 2-1 to suspend the effectiveness of their earlier ruling by issuing a "stay," meaning that the regulations under the original BCRA would remain intact until the Supreme Court could rule on the law.

Judges Karen L. Henderson of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit and Colleen Kollar-Kotelly of U.S. District Court in Washington wrote of the panel's decision for granting a stay, "This court's desire to prevent the litigants from facing potentially three different regulatory regimes in a very short time span, and the court's recognition of the divisions among the panel about the constitutionality of the challenged provisions of [the new law], counsel in favor of granting a stay in this case."

On June 5 the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear constitutional challenges to the McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform law on an expedited basis in early September.

PIAPAC Hard Dollars Count!

Limitations on soft money contributions make individual or "hard dollar" contributions even more valuable than before. All donations to PIAPAC-the PIA Political Action Committee-are appreciated and needed. However, donations drawn on personal bank accounts and on the accounts of sole proprietorships and partnerships offer PIAPAC the best means to support candidates directly according to new federal election laws. Contributions from your corporate business may be used primarily for administrative purposes.

There is no change in the amount an individual may contribute to a PAC ($5,000 per year.) Likewise, there is no change in how much a PAC may contribute to a political candidate ($5,000 per candidate per election).

PIAPAC will operate as it always has: combining PIA members' contributions to help elect pro-insurance, pro-business candidates to the United States Senate and House of Representatives.

If you would like more information about how you can become involved in PIAPAC, please contact Kellie Bray at kelliebr@pianet.org or (703) 518-1364.

This article originally appeared in the June 2003 PIA Connection.