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Published: Saturday, 6/29/2002

When money talks

The AFL-CIO and the Republican National Committee don't usually agree on much, but they're courtroom cousins when it comes to political money.

Both the labor federation and the Republican Party's top fund-raising arm have lawsuits pending in federal court against the Shays-Meehan/McCain-Feingold soft-money bill, signed into law by President Bush on March 27.

The groups may be ideological opposites, but their arguments against the landmark campaign-finance legislation have a common thread. They both contend that the law, which is supposed to rid the political process of huge donations from special interests, is a violation of the First Amendment's guarantee of free speech. In other words, money equals speech, and those with the most money get to speak the loudest.

The National Rifle Association filed the initial court challenge and was joined by the RNC. The Christian Coalition doesn't like the law, and neither do the American Civil Liberties Union, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and the National Association of Manufacturers.

The strange-bedfellows opposition is a vivid illustration of obstacles facing the law, and not just in court. The Federal Elections Commission, which is supposed to be an independent campaign-finance watchdog, already has attempted to water it down with loopholes couched in administrative rules.

There is only one obvious conclusion: Any legislation that can engender this type of concentrated attack from all reaches of the political spectrum must be on the mark.

The stakes are enormous. Between the two of them, the political parties raised about $500 million in soft money during the run-up to the 2000 presidential election, with a slight edge to the Republicans.

In addition to banning soft money contributions from business, labor, and wealthy individuals, the law prohibits last-minute “issue” ads used extensively by groups like the AFL-CIO, the Christian Coalition, and others to torpedo candidates without actually mentioning their name.

The lawsuits against the statute probably will stretch into or even past the next presidential election. Let's hope that whatever court decisions that result favor the one special-interest group that most often gets lost in the shuffle - the American people.

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