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Campaign bill friends, foes square off

The Bipartisan Campaign Finance Reform Act is either a modest attempt to
reform rampant political corruption or an attempt to torch the First Amendment
by incumbents looking to protect themselves.

Attorneys on both sides of the current legal challenge to the law made their
cases at a Media Institute luncheon in Washington, D.C., Tuesday.

Some 11 lawsuits challenging the constitutionality of the law have been
consolidated into one case, which will be heard in December.

Included in the law is a ban on broadcast ads that mention a candidate's name
within 60 days of an election or 30 days of a primary.

Roger Witten, a lawyer representing McCain-Feingold backers, as the act is
known, said the law simply closed the loophole on an avalanche of
candidate-specific ads masquerading as issue ads.

Jan Baran, on the legal team mounting Sen. Mitch McConnell's (R-Ky.)
challenge to the law, countered that corporations and unions have a right to
political speech that is threatened by a law that makes it a crime to refer to a
candidate and his stands on issues.

Ken Starr, co-counsel with Baran, cited as an example of the kind of speech
that was being suppressed an ad that advocated greater workplace rights for gays
and lesbians but was not allowed to run because it mentioned the name of House
Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill).

Thomas Mann of The Brookings Institution shot back that the ad had been 'a
big con,' planted in the district of a safe Congressman where its failure to run
would not bear on the race. He added that the ad could have run, but simply not
as it had been funded.

Starr also cited the 'wild inequity' of the ad ban's application to broadcast
but not print, saying that the only reason for the 'anomaly' was that the reform
bill's framers 'couldn't get away with' applying it to print.