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Door Closed on Bid to Loosen |Campaign-Finance Rule

(CN) - A panel of federal judges in Washington rejected the Louisiana Republican Party's bid to circumvent campaign-finance rules that bar the state and local parties from using soft-money donations to influence federal contests.

The Louisiana GOP and several local Republican committees challenged the validity of the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002, arguing the prohibition enforced by the defendant Federal Elections Commission violates the First Amendment on its face, and prevents them from engaging in independent political speech and voter-registration activity.

Writing for a three-person panel on Nov. 7, U.S. Circuit Judge Sri Srinivasan said Congress enacted the rules to close a long-standing loophole in the existing campaign-finance law, and that the issues raised by the plaintiffs have already been settled in other legal forums.

Srinivasan normally sits on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. Monday's decision came out of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.

Though one judge typically handles trial-level proceedings in District Court, federal law requires them to convene a panel of three judges to consider actions that challenging the constitutionality of the apportionment of congressional districts or of any statewide legislative body.

Srinivasan noted Monday that campaign contributions complying with Federal Election Campaign Act in regard to their source and amounts also known as "hard money" can be used by political parties in connection with federal elections.

Contributions falling outside FECA's source and amount restrictions — in other words, funding from individuals in excess of the statutory ceilings, or funding from corporations in any amount, so-called "soft" money — cannot be used by political parties for federal elections.

Srinivasan said the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act "took 'national parties out of the soft-money business'" by "establishing a wholesale bar against national political parties' raising or using nonfederal money."

"Congress additionally understood that the soft-money ban for national parties would have little effect if state and local parties remained free to use nonfederal money for activities affecting federal elections — donors would then simply route soft-money donations to state and local parties instead of national parties," the judge wrote.

Srinivasan then turned his focus to the history of litigation over the tightening of the campaign-finance rules, noting "The Supreme Court, in McConnell v. FEC, upheld those measures against a facial challenge under the First Amendment."

"A prior three-judge district court, relying on McConnell, later sustained the provisions against an as-applied challenge, and the Supreme Court summarily affirmed that decision, [in] Republican Nat'l Comm. v. FEC," he continued.

"We see no salient distinction between the First Amendment claims rejected in those cases and the challenge presented here. We therefore grant summary judgment in favor of the Federal Election Commission," Srinivasan wrote.

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