Take That, BCRA

Posted July 27, 2007 at 6:14pm

An amendment limiting federal law enforcement’s ability to police certain issue ads by labor unions and other outside groups awaits conference scrutiny after passing the House late last week. [IMGCAP(1)]

The amendment — sponsored by Rep. Mike Pence (R-Ind.) and successfully added to the fiscal 2008 Commerce, Justice, science and related agencies appropriations bill — would cut off Justice Department funding to crack down on “electioneering communications” — broadcast ads run in the 30 days before a primary contest and 60 days before Election Day. The 2002 Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act banned such ads, but the Supreme Court last month ruled that certain ads run during the “blackout period” are protected speech.

“Today freedom of speech prevailed on the floor of the people’s House,” Pence said. “We still have much work to do to reinstate full First Amendment protections to the American people, so badly trampled by” BCRA.

But campaign finance watchdogs disagree, arguing that the Supreme Court’s recent decision did not overturn existing law; rather, it carved out a narrow exemption based on the facts of a specific case decided by the high court’s nine justices.

“The ‘electioneering communications’ provisions of BCRA remain the law of the land,’” wrote a coalition that included Common Cause, Democracy 21 and Public Citizen. The Pence amendment “would wrongly prohibit the government from enforcing an existing federal law.”

E-mail Update. The e-mail slowdown that frustrated thousands of House staffers during the past two weeks appeared to have stabilized Friday, but technology experts still have not identified the root cause of the problem.

The situation is similar to the common cold, said Jeff Ventura, a spokesman for the Chief Administrative Officer, who is overseeing the matter.

“We’ve figured out how to treat some of the more problematic symptoms but haven’t figured out the cure,” Ventura said.

Technical changes to the House’s e-mail servers appeared to bring things back to normal, Ventura said. But officials are waiting until the House breaks for recess to fully tackle the problem, as doing so could require temporarily shutting systems down, Ventura said.

Experts from Microsoft Corp. were expected to deliver to the CAO an analysis of the e-mail problem by end of business Friday, Ventura said.

“We are still committed to finding out why it happened and making a change so it doesn’t happen again,” Ventura added.

— Matthew Murray and Elizabeth Brotherton