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Court hacks campaign-reform law

A federal court Friday struck down most of a new campaign-finance-reform law
that restricted election-season political ads and banned large corporate and
union political contributions by political parties.

The ruling, handed down by a special panel of federal judges, sets the stage
for a final showdown on the law in the Supreme Court.

The ruling clears the way for an immediate appeal by the losing parties to
the U.S. Supreme Court just in time for the 2004 presidential election.

The campaign-reform law -- shepherded through contentious Capitol Hill
battles by Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Russ Feingold (D-Wis.) -- restricted
the types of ads than can be broadcast on TV and radio close to an election.

The law also banned 'soft-money' donations to political parties -- a gigantic
source of funds for political TV ads.

In the 2002 election, for instance, campaign ads added roughly $1 billion to
TV-station revenues.

The aim of the law, signed by President Bush in March 2002, was to eliminate
what supporters saw as the corrupting influence of corporate and interest-group
money into the political process.

Opponents included the National Association of Broadcasters and ranged from
the national Democratic and Republican parties to interest groups of all
stripes, such as the National Rifle Association and the American Civil Liberties

They said the law is a clear violation of free-speech rights and the courts
have no option other than to strike down nearly all of it.

The law has been defended by attorneys for the Department of