Judge opens door for
Right to Life ads

Staff and news services

Hawaii Right to Life is claiming a free speech victory after a federal judge in Washington, D.C., blocked the government yesterday from enforcing new campaign finance restrictions that would have kept the anti-abortion group from airing political ads in upcoming special congressional elections in Hawaii.

U.S. District Judge Henry Kennedy granted a temporary injunction sought by Hawaii Right to Life, opening the door for the group to air ads in special elections scheduled for this Saturday and Jan. 4.

The group said it will start showing ads today.

"I think it proves our case, it proves the validity of what we've been trying to say all along," said John Long, executive director of Hawaii Right to Life.

Long said the new rules make it difficult for organizations to express an opinion on political candidates.

"Because of these new laws that are in effect, you cannot talk about the candidates now. You can't mention them by name, good or bad -- that's so restrictive," he said.

Earlier this month, a federal judge in Hawaii denied a temporary restraining order sought by Hawaii Right to Life, which sought to prevent the state Campaign Spending Commission from enforcing campaign spending laws.

U.S. District Judge Susan Oki Mollway ruled that a fund-raising letter/voter guide the organization wanted to distribute identified candidates and was subject to campaign spending reporting requirements.

While the group contends the new Federal Ethics Commission restrictions are unconstitutional and prevented it from expressing its views on the elections, it won the injunction by focusing on a narrower issue.

Kennedy agreed with Hawaii Right to Life and ruled it was a "qualified nonprofit group" that by law should be exempt from the government's new political ad restrictions.

In doing so, he concluded the FEC's definition for such nonprofit groups was too narrow and wrongly excluded Hawaii Right to Life.

He said the anti-abortion group qualified for the exemption because the group had received at least $50 in corporate contributions.

The judge said the issue of the constitutionality of the new restrictions should be saved "for another day."

The FEC had argued Hawaii Right to Life should be treated as a political issue advocacy group covered by the new advertising limitations.

The ruling is a setback for the FEC's effort to begin implementing the new campaign finance law Congress passed earlier this year. The law, which took effect Nov. 6, puts new limits on political donations and advertising.

The Hawaii elections are to fill a vacancy created by the death of U.S. Rep. Patsy Mink, D-Hawaii, and are the first conducted under the new restrictions.

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