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Supreme Court upholds 'soft money' ban

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The U.S. Supreme Court upholds a ban on 'soft money' contributions.
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Some law provisions upheld by the Supreme Court:

•Prohibits national parties or candidates from accepting or soliciting "soft money," including donations from corporations and unions.

•Restricts election-time political ads by special-interest groups.

•Bans political ads mentioning federal candidates in their districts a month before a primary election and two months before Election Day.

Source: The Associated Press
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- In a victory Wednesday for supporters of political campaign finance reform, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld a ban on "soft money" contributions and limits on political advertising by advocacy groups before elections.

Soft money is the widely used term for unlimited and unregulated contributions to national political parties that were legal in the United States before passage of the law in 2002.

The high court's 5-4 ruling also upheld the law's restrictions on political advertising by special-interest groups in the weeks prior to an election. Such ads criticize or support a candidate's stand on an issue.

After an expedited appeals process, the decision clears the way for the new restrictions to go into effect for the 2004 elections.

The court struck down other provisions of the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act, commonly known as the McCain-Feingold law, passed by Congress in 2002.

Supporters of the law said it would lessen the influence of unlimited soft money contributions from interest groups, which -- they said -- have corrupted the political process.

But opponents said the restrictions amounted to unconstitutional limitations on political free speech.

Shortly after the law was passed, U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, and a wide range of political figures and organizations filed suit against the Federal Election Commission.

The law, scheduled to go into effect immediately after the November 2002 elections, was put on hold while the Supreme Court considered the case.

The court's majority ruling said, "The question for present purposes is whether large soft money contributions to national party committees have a corrupting influence or give rise to the appearance of corruption.

"Both common sense and the ample record in these cases confirm Congress' belief that they do."

The White House quickly reacted, noting that President Bush signed the McCain-Feingold bill into law.

White House lawyers are studying the finer points of the ruling, a senior Bush administration official said.

"The president believes strongly the law was within the limits of the Constitution," the official said. "This ruling indicates that the law is within those parameters."

Justices Sandra Day O'Connor, John Paul Stevens, David Souter, Ruth Bader Ginsberg and Stephen Breyer were in the majority opinion on the ruling, which was more than 300 pages.

The decision included extensive and sometimes bitter dissents by the court's more conservative block, which includes Chief Justice William Rehnquist and Justices Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas and Anthony Kennedy.

Rehnquist rejected the majority's assertion that the close relationship between federal officeholders and the national parties makes the donations "suspect."

"A close association with others, especially in the realm of political speech, is not a surrogate for corruption; it is one of our most treasured First Amendment rights," Rehnquist said.

Scalia also sharply attacked the ruling.

"The first instinct of power is the retention of power, and under a Constitution that requires periodic elections, that is best achieved by the suppression of election-time speech," Scalia wrote.

CNN's Terry Frieden and Bill Mears contributed to this report.

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