What the Heck Are the Election Rules?

     ALEXANDRIA, Va. (CN) – The Hispanic Leadership Fund sued the Federal Election Commission for an answer to whether ads that mention “the government” or “the White House” will subject it to stiff fines and penalties under the Federal Election Campaign Act.
     The Hispanic Leadership Fund wants the FEC to give it a precise definition of electioneering, and $1 million in damages for suppressing its freedom of speech.
     The group filed a similar complaintagainst the FEC in Iowa Federal Court on July 31. In that case, the group said the FEC failed to state just what its rules are after the Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling.
     The new complaint relies more often upon the Supreme Court ruling in Buckley v Valeo: “This case challenges a law that, as interpreted and applied by the [FEC], abridges the freedom of speech and association guaranteed under the First Amendment to the Constitution,” the complaint states.
     The group says in its complaint that it wants to publish ads that “address substantive policy issues facing the federal government on a daily and regular basis.”
     It claims that such ads are not electioneering because they do not clearly identify candidates.
     The lawsuit comes after another group, the American Future Fund, asked the FEC for an advisory opinion on similar ads and the FEC struck down all its proposals except one: The FEC ruled, peculiarly, that the terms “Obamacare” and “Romneycare” do not clearly refer to a candidate.
     The Hispanic Leadership Fund says that if the FEC won’t approve ads from the American Future Fund, its own ads must be doomed.
     “The advisory opinion process in this matter is complete and deprives plaintiff of a legal right – to engage freely in constitutionally protected speech and association,” the complaint states.
     The group says it planed to distribute ads that refer to “the administration,” “the government,” and “the White House,” but cannot, for fear of the penalties the FEC could assess it for electioneering.
     “As soon as possible, HLF would like a determination of its legal obligations with respect to specific communications during the upcoming electioneering communications period so that it is able to plan and implement its constitutionally protected political speech for the next several months,” the complaint states.
     The electioneering communication time period for this year’s presidential election began on Aug. 4, the group says, and its inability to publish the ads chills its speech.
     The group wants the court to clear up some key points – whether “the administration,” “the government,” or “the White House” clearly identifies a candidate and whether using an unidentified audio clip of a public official constitutes the same – and nominal damages of $1 for violating its constitutional rights.
     The HLF is represented by Shawn Sheehy, with Holtzman Vogel, in Warrenton, Va.

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