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Supreme Court Hears Arguments on Restricting Campaign Ads

The U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments Wednesday on a part of the McCain-Feingold campaign finance law that, under certain conditions, bars campaign ads by interest groups close to elections. Marcia Coyle of the National Law Journal discusses the case.

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  • GWEN IFILL:

    Today's Supreme Court arguments represent the third challenge in four years to the landmark 2002 McCain-Feingold campaign reform law. This time, justices are being asked to decide whether the law limits constitutional free speech rights by banning targeted campaign advertising within 60 days of a federal election.

    In this case, the Bush administration is appealing a lower court ruling. That found that the constitutional rights of the anti-abortion advocacy group Wisconsin Right to Life were violated when its 2004 ads castigating senators over judicial nominations were pulled off the air.

  • AD ANNOUNCER:

    … because a group of U.S. senators is filibustering, blocking qualified nominees from a simple "yes" or "no" vote. It's politics at work, and it's causing gridlock. Contact Senators Feingold and Kohl and tell them…

  • GWEN IFILL:

    It was that direct reference to Democratic Senator Russ Feingold that got the ad pulled off the air. Feingold was running for reelection in 2004, and the Federal Election Commission determined the ads to be "electioneering communications."

    The McCain-Feingold law defines "electioneering communication" as an ad that "clearly identifies a candidate for federal office; is publicly distributed shortly before an election for the office that candidate is seeking; and is targeted to the relevant electorate."

    The law also forbids labor unions and corporations from paying for such advertising, a restriction groups ranging from the AFL-CIO to the National Rifle Association oppose.