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    Part of campaign law is tossed out

    The federal court ruled that the law violated the First Amendment.

    By LUCY MORGAN

    © St. Petersburg Times,
    published December 1, 2001


    TALLAHASSEE -- A federal appeals court has tossed out a section of Florida's campaign finance law that prohibited contributions made in another person's name and kept candidates from making or soliciting charitable contributions.

    The ruling marks the second time that Florida Right to Life has successfully overturned a section of the campaign finance law in the pursuit of a lawsuit filed in federal court in Orlando in 1999.

    Attorney General Bob Butterworth said he thinks legislators can easily redraft the law and resolve the problem. But others suggested the decision will open the door to more and more "shadow advertising" in political campaigns.

    In December 1999, acting in the same lawsuit, a federal judge in Orlando overturned the law that required political action committees to report contributions and expenditures. That decision led to the creation of mysterious committees that spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to defeat and elect legislative candidates last year.

    Legislative efforts to fix the law have repeatedly failed despite criticism from Common Cause and the League of Women Voters.

    "It would certainly be unfortunate if this opens the door to a lot more unaccountable shadow advertising," noted Ben Wilcox, executive director of Common Cause. "But I have some hope the Legislature will fix this."

    On Wednesday the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta found the law that forbids candidates from soliciting or making donations to charitable organizations with personal or campaign funds to be a violation of the First Amendment.

    The decision eliminated the entire section of the law, including a sentence that was not at issue in the lawsuit. It prohibited contributors from giving donations in someone else's name.

    Butterworth said he believes other sections of the law can be used to accomplish the same goal.

    The ruling arose from a letter written by Secretary of State Katherine Harris indicating she would like to donate to Florida Right to Life but did not want to violate the law.

    "The letter shows that Florida Right to Life is suffering actual hardship in the form of economic loss" when candidates are forced to forgo contributions, the court noted.

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