November 8, 2005

Co-Sponsor H.R. 4194, the Shays-Meehan Internet Anti-Corruption and Free Speech Protection Act

Dear Representative,

The undersigned organizations strongly urge you to co-sponsor and support H.R. 4194, the Internet Anti-Corruption and Free Speech Protection Act of 2005 introduced by Representatives Christopher Shays (R-CT) and Marty Meehan (D-MA).

The organizations include the Campaign Legal Center, Common Cause, Democracy 21, the League of Women Voters, Public Citizen and US PIRG.

The Internet has opened the door to great advances in the nation’s political discussion and in increasing the role and importance of small donors in our elections.

Our organizations have consistently stated that we support affirming that individuals communicating on their own Web sites are free from regulation by the campaign finance laws, including individual bloggers who are incorporated, as long as it is done in a way that does not undermine the nation’s laws to protect against corruption.

The Shays-Meehan bill accomplishes these goals and deserves your support.

We strongly opposed H.R. 1606, voted on by the House last week, because it does not accomplish these goals. Instead, H.R. 1606 would allow corrupt soft money to return to federal elections, and allow Members of Congress again to make use of corrupt soft money to support their campaigns.

This position was confirmed and made clear by federal district court Judge Kollar-Kotelly who found in Shays and Meehan v. FEC that an FEC regulation, with the exact same language as H.R. 1606, “would permit rampant circumvention of the campaign finance laws and foster corruption or the appearance of corruption.”

Judge Kollar-Kotelly further found regarding the language contained in H.R. 1606 that “to permit an entire class of political communications to be completely unregulated irrespective of the level of coordination between the communication’s publisher and a political party or federal candidate, would permit an evasion of campaign finance laws....”

Judge Kollar-Kotelly concluded that the language contained in H.R 1606 “severely undermines” the nation’s campaign finance laws.

In other words, H.R. 1606 seeks to codify language identical to an FEC regulation that was invalidated by Judge Kollar-Kotelly because it would “severely undermine,” “permit rampant circumvention” and “permit evasion” of the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002 (BCRA).

The Federal Election Commission did not appeal Judge Kollar-Kotelly’s findings regarding the language contained in H.R. 1606.

The FEC did appeal a number of other findings made by Judge Kollar-Kotelly in invalidating a total of 15 regulations adopted by the FEC to implement BCRA. The D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals rejected the FEC appeal on every issue.

Recent polls show that eighty-one percent of the American people believe corruption in government is an extremely or very important issue and list the corruption issue as among the top issues facing the country. The last thing that House Members should be doing is passing legislation – like H.R. 1606 – which will greatly increase the already dangerous problem of corruption in government.

The Shays-Meehan bill would exempt from the campaign finance laws, in the same way that H.R. 1606 does, communication by individuals on their own Web sites, including individual bloggers who incorporate.

The Shays-Meehan bill, however, unlike H.R. 1606, would not repeal the existing prohibition on Members of Congress and other federal candidates using soft money, in coordination with corporations, labor unions and wealthy individuals, to buy ads on the Internet to support their campaigns. H.R 1606 would authorize this use of corrupt soft money.

The Shays-Meehan bill, unlike H.R 1606, would not repeal the existing prohibition on state political parties using soft money to buy ads on the Internet that promote and attack federal candidates. H.R. 1606 would authorize this use of corrupt soft money.

The Shays-Meehan bill, unlike H.R. 1606, would not repeal the ban on corporations and labor unions using their soft-money treasury funds in coordination with federal candidates to place ads on their Web sites to influence federal elections. H.R. 1606 would authorize this use of corrupt soft money.

If H.R. 1606 were enacted it would produce this absurd result: A House Member would be prohibited from coordinating with a corporation, labor union or wealthy individual to use soft money to buy an ad on a television station or in a newspaper, but would be allowed to coordinate with a corporation, labor union or wealthy individual to use soft money to buy the same ad on the Internet.

In other words, it would be illegal to buy an ad with soft money in The Washington Post, but legal to buy the same ad with soft money on washingtonpost.com.

We strongly urge you to co-sponsor and support H.R. 4194 and oppose H.R. 1606.

Campaign Legal Center
Common Cause
Democracy 21
League of Women Voters
Public Citizen
US PIRG