In an effort to defend its freedom of speech and run an advertising campaign as a grass-roots organization, Wisconsin Right to Life (WRL) filed suit yesterday against the Federal Election Commission in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.
The suit requests an injunction to allow WRL to run anti-filibuster grass-roots lobbying ads into a broadcast ban blackout period.
The WRL ad campaign in question asks citizens to contact Senators Russell Feingold and Herbert Kohl and to urge them to oppose the filibustering of President Bush's judicial nominees.
However, under the provisions of the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act, more commonly known as McCain-Feingold, WRL is prohibited from airing its media campaign, because it names Sen. Feingold - who is running for re-election - within 30 days prior to the primary election on Sept. 14 and then within 60 days prior to the general election.
However, WRL can mention Sen. Kohl since his name is not on the ballot. The campaign began with radio ads July 26. TV ads are slated to start next week.
This year's election will be the first test of the provisions of McCain-Feingold, which was enacted in March 2002. Numerous organizations, in addition to WRL, have expressed opposition to this broadcast ad ban, including the AFL-CIO, the American Civil Liberties Union, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and the National Right to Life Committee.
In December 2003, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the broadcast ban. The Court, however, left open claims that the broadcast ban would be unconstitutional as applied to certain types of ads. WRL is the first organization in the country to file suit in federal court, claiming that the broadcast ban is unconstitutional as applied to grass-roots lobbying advertisements.
"Now is the time for organizations like Wisconsin Right to Life to challenge a law that we believe infringes on United States citizens' First Amendment right of freedom of speech," said Barbara Lyons, executive director of WRL. "The broadcast ban wrongly restricts citizens' ability to learn about and influence on an upcoming vote in Congress."
"The McCain-Feingold law drastically reduces the influence of the citizen of average means because the association of like-minded individuals is essential to effective participation in the public arena," said James Bopp Jr., who filed the suit on WRL's behalf.
"With the little guys locked in the dungeon of nonparticipation, the rich and powerful will run politics, much as they did before the adoption of the first and foremost campaign reform, the First Amendment," he said. "The First Amendment protects the right of citizens to influence those in power on the critical issues of the day through grass-roots lobbying."