Judge hears arguments on campaign restrictions

AP News
Posted: Nov 09, 2009 3:32 PM

It's now up to a federal judge in New Orleans to decide whether to put a challenge to campaign finance restrictions on a faster track to the U.S. Supreme Court.

U.S. District Judge Ginger Berrigan heard arguments Monday by attorneys for Republican officials challenging the restrictions and from Federal Election Commission attorneys defending them. Republicans want Berrigan to send key issues in the case directly to the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals without a district court-level trial.

Berrigan did not indicate when she would rule in the lawsuit, one of several pending challenges to campaign finance law.

The New Orleans suit challenges limits on what state and national parties can spend in coordinated efforts for a candidate.

In U.S. House races, state and national parties can each spend around $42,000 on a campaign in which they work together. They cannot consult with each other on money spent beyond that limit.

State party officials complained during U.S. Rep. Joseph Cao's 2008 campaign that the restriction can lead to money being wasted on duplicative efforts or conflicting messages.

Cao and the state and national Republican parties filed the lawsuit.

In September, the U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments on whether to allow corporations and labor unions to pay for political campaigns _ a case that arose from questions on whether a 90-minute movie critical of Hillary Clinton should be regulated as a campaign ad.

Also pending in Washington, before a federal district court, is a Republican-backed challenge of the 2002 ban on unlimited "soft money" contributions _ that is, unlimited amounts of money from corporations, unions or individuals. A three-judge panel heard arguments in the case Aug. 27.

While supporters of the restrictions hail them as a means of restraining the corrupting influence of big money in politics, the lawsuit argues that the laws amount to an abridgment of free speech in violation of the First Amendment.