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RNC Takes McCain-Feingold to Court

"The answer the Supreme Court has given is that the parties are unique in that they provide unparalleled access to officeholders and party leaders and therefore raise the possibility of corruption in ways that other groups don't," said Richard L. Hasen, a professor who specializes in campaign law at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles. "But the Supreme Court is moving much more in a deregulatory direction."

'Perfect Storm' of Cases

The case is one of three pending federal cases that could significantly change corporate influence on federal campaigns.

On Sept. 9, the Supreme Court will hear arguments in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, a case that addresses spending by nonprofits, such as those that claim an educational or business purpose, before federal elections. A federal District Court in Louisiana has a Nov. 12 hearing in another RNC case, Cao v. FEC, which addresses contribution limits that apply when candidates coordinate spending with state and national parties.

The combination of the three cases represent a "perfect storm" that could "open the floodgates for a return to the undue influence that so troubled the Supreme Court in its McConnell decision in 2003," said Paul S. Ryan, a lawyer with the Campaign Legal Center, which is representing McCain and Feingold as interveners in the RNC case to be heard next week.

History of Contribution Limits

The McCain-Feingold law grew out of concern that big-dollar contributions gave at least the appearance of corruption. Soft money totaled nearly $500 million in 2000 before the ban.

Before McCain-Feingold, soft money was not included in a 1907 ban on corporations making contributions to any federal election, a 1947 expansion to ban contributions from unions and subsequent contribution limits because the money wasn't spent advocating for specific federal candidates.

"Federal candidates, although prohibited by law from receiving soft money, directly solicited soft-money donations to their own national and state parties, and these candidates provided lucrative benefits and access to the highest government officials in exchange for the largest donations," the FEC's general counsel, Thomasenia P. Duncan, said in her written argument to the court.

"Given this close connection and alignment of interests, large soft-money contributions to national parties are likely to create actual or apparent indebtedness on the part of federal officeholders, regardless of how those funds are ultimately used," the Supreme Court said in upholding the soft-money ban.

But to those who worry about poking holes in the law, Bopp replied: "Freedom is not loophole."

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