The Sad State of Election Law
WRTL Files Request with Federal Court of Allow Radio Ads Barred By McCain-Feingold LawFreedom of speech in the Bill of Rights? What a quaint idea. Enlightened reformers like John McCain and Russ Feingold would prefer that you ask the federal government to engage in speech concerning politicians. We wouldn't want people getting informed around election time.
"Today, Wisconsin Right to Life is filing a motion for a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction in the District Court for the District of Columbia to allow WRTL to air a radio ad within the next few weeks asking Wisconsin citizens to contact Senators Kohl and Feingold and to urge them to vote to move the Child Custody Protection Act to conference committee," stated Barbara Lyons, Executive Director of Wisconsin Right to Life.
"Wisconsin is currently in the blackout period mandated by the McCain/Feingold campaign finance law. Because Senator Kohl appears on the primary election ballot, permission is needed from the federal court to air grassroots lobbying ads mentioning his name, even though the radio ad has nothing to do with elections. Wisconsin Right to Life officials risk jail terms if the radio ad is aired without permission by the federal court," said James Bopp, Jr. counsel to WRTL.
The odd part about this is that WRTL is actually praising Senator Kohl since he voted in favor of the Child Custody Protection Act. WRTL is just trying to lobby to get the bill into conference committee so it can be signed into law. It's currently stalled by a procedural move by Senate Democrats. However, Kohl's name is going to be mentioned, so that's a no-no during our pre-election blackout period. Lord knows we wouldn't want anyone engaging in speech about politicians before an election. That would be crazy.
If you think my sarcasm meter is off the charts, check out this editorial from the New York Sun about the case...
A grassroots group, Wisconsin Right to Life, will be in court arguing for its right to air radio ads in respect of current legislation even, gasp, in the midst of an election season. It's a sign of just how out-of-control campaign speech regulation has gotten that Americans need to ask a federal court for a temporary restraining order to mention a senator's name on the airwaves.Something about campaign finance laws brings out the sarcasm traits in those of us who have them. Even more sarcasm...
Now the plot thickens. Since Senator Kohl is on a primary ballot on September 12, the ads allegedly run afoul of the what might as well be called the McCain-Feingold (yes, that Feingold) Incumbent Insulation Act, better known as the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002. Thus, the good citizens of Wisconsin Right to Life must seek a court's permission to talk about their elected officials in public. Henry VIII or George III couldn't have rigged the system better themselves.The editors then make their legal and policy point...
The high court justices declined to hurry up consideration of a Maine case resembling the Wisconsin case, in which a group opposed to gay marriage tried to call unflattering attention to Senator Snowe's position on marriage ahead of Senate action that coincided with primary season.The McCain-Feingold law, like its namesakes, is incredibly self-serving. I am waiting for the day that there is a majority on the Supreme Court to strike the law down and end this absurdity.
The difference between Maine and Wisconsin is instructive. In Maine, the ad cast the primary-contending incumbent in a negative light. Wisconsin Right to Life, however, wants to praise the incumbent in the primary. Above all, this case demonstrates that the purpose of campaign speech regulation isn't to cut down on "unfair" negative campaigning, if such a thing even exists. Rather, McCain-Feingold exists to take politics out of the hands of citizens and put it in the hands of the politicians. And to protect incumbents.