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Federal court says advocacy groups allowed to run issue ads close to elections

[JURIST] Advocacy groups must be allowed to run issue ads in the two-month period immediately prior to elections, a three-judge panel from the US District Court for the District of Columbia held [opinion, PDF] Thursday. The ruling was based on the US Supreme Court's January remand of Wisconsin Right to Life v. Federal Election Commission [opinion, PDF; Duke Law case backgrounder] for the purpose of reexamining whether the Bipartisan Campaign Finance Reform Act of 2002 (BCRA) [text] violates the First Amendment right to free speech when it bans corporate and union sponsorship of political issue ads that mention a specific candidate from airing within two months of the election. Thursday's 2-1 ruling held that such speech is constitutionally protected because it addresses genuine issues, and that the ads must be allowed to air. Critics fear that the decision will compromise the BCRA's attempt to limit the influence of well-funded special interest groups. The Supreme Court will now examine the case under automatic review. AP has more.

The case began in 2004 when the Federal Election Commission [official website] issued an injunction barring Wisconsin Right to Life [advocacy website] from airing an advertisement mentioning US Sen. Russ Feingold (D-WI) [official website] in the run-up to his reelection. The lower court had ruled [text] against the anti-abortion group, prompting a request that the Supreme Court strike down [JURIST report] the part of the law that called for the two-month ban. The Supreme Court said the lower court had misread a 2003 ruling [text] by the high court which upheld a federal campaign finance law, saying that ruling "did not purport to resolve future as-applied challenges," and returned the case to the lower court.

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