Christian Civic League files suit over election law

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AUGUSTA – The Maine Christian Civic League has filed suit against the Federal Election Commission arguing that elements of the country’s campaign finance laws violate the First Amendment.

The conservative political-advocacy organization wants to run broadcast ads targeting Republican Sens. Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins during May and June. In the ads, the league wants to encourage people to contact the senators and tell them to support the federal Marriage Protection Amendment, which could come up for debate in the Senate this spring or summer.

Because Snowe will be on a June 13 primary ballot, the ad is prohibited under federal campaign finance law, which bans corporations or interest groups from airing broadcast ads that name candidates within 30 days of an election. Snowe is running unopposed in the Republican primary.

Oral arguments in the case are scheduled for April 24 in U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C. The lawsuit was filed earlier this month on behalf of the Maine Christian Civic League by James Bopp Jr., an Indiana lawyer who also does work for groups such as Maine Right to Life and James Dobson’s Focus on the Family.

“The situation underscores the need for a grass-roots lobbying exception to the electioneering communication prohibition,” Bopp said in a statement after the suit was filed. “The ad is genuine grassroots lobbying, and it’s prohibited simply because the Senate vote is scheduled at the same time Senator Snowe is a candidate in a primary election.”

“We believe that the law cannot be constitutionally applied,” Bopp said Tuesday when reached in Indiana.

Snowe, along with Vermont Sen. Jim Jeffords, authored the provision of the campaign finance law that’s being challenged. The law is commonly referred to as McCain-Feingold after its chief proponents, Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Russell Feingold, D-Wis.

In 2003, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the campaign finance law. In 2004, a challenge by Wisconsin Right to Life sought to overturn the same part of law regarding an ad targeting Feingold. That suit is also at the District Court level.

Rep. Tom Allen, a Maine Democrat, has joined McCain, Feingold and two other House members in defense of the law.

“The Maine Christian Civic League wants to turn back the clock on campaign reform and reopen the floodgates of special interest soft money,” Allen said. “The league seeks to undermine one of the most important elements of the landmark campaign finance reform legislation my co-interveners and I fought so hard to pass back in 2002. Our motion asks the court to grant us the right to join the case as co-defendants with the Federal Election Commission against the CCL’s challenge.”

According to Antonia Ferrier, a spokeswoman for Snowe, the senator is not joining in the legal defense of the law because she is the target of the advertisements in question.

“Clearly, Sen. Snowe believes the provision is constitutional. It’s stood up to constitutional scrutiny before,” Ferrier said. “The senator did not join in on the defense because she didn’t think that was appropriate.”

The Marriage Protection Amendment would put the definition of marriage as the union between a man and a woman into the Constitution.

Messages left with the Christian Civic League were not returned Tuesday.

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