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Wisconsin: US Supreme Court to hear challenge to state campaign finance law

The Washington Post reports: Campaign finance reform emerged as a major theme of the coming Supreme Court term yesterday, as the justices announced that they will rule on federal and state efforts to regulate campaign-season advertising by advocacy groups and to limit spending by candidates. ...

The first case is a challenge to provisions of the 2002 McCain-Feingold campaign law that prevent corporations or labor unions from buying ads with unregulated money about a specified candidate in the weeks just before an election.

Wisconsin antiabortion activists say their particular proposed ads are genuine efforts to express their views on an issue, not attacks on candidates disguised as issue ads -- or "sham" issue ads the law was meant to regulate.

A three-judge panel of the U.S. District Court in Washington ruled last year that the Supreme Court's 2003 ruling upholding McCain-Feingold precluded such a case-by-case effort to avoid the law's provisions. The Bush administration urged the Supreme Court to uphold that decision without a hearing, which the high court could have done if five justices had agreed.

McCain-Feingold was upheld 5 to 4 in 2003. Justice Sandra Day O'Connor was a member of that majority but will leave the court as soon as a successor is confirmed by the Senate.

"O'Connor was the swing vote" in that case, said Rick Hasen, a specialist in election law at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles. "This could provide the vehicle for a more conservative court . . . to reverse that aspect" of the 2003 decision.

The case is Wisconsin Right to Life, Inc. v. Federal Election Commission , No. 04-1581. -- High Court to Decide Campaign Finance Cases

Bob Bauer has more on both the Wisconsin and Vermont cases on More Soft Money Hard Law.