Soft Money Arguments Draw Strange Bedfellows

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The U.S. Supreme Court, in a pairing of strange political bedfellows, was asked last week to overturn the 2001 law banning so-called soft money to political parties. Individuals, corporations and unions have used the system to funnel an estimated $2-billion to the two political parties over the past decade, $500-million alone in the last election cycle.

Credit unions, themselves, have used the soft money rules to send almost $1 million to the two main parties since 1996, including $250,000 in the 2000-2001 elections.

The oral arguments pitted representatives from the Bush administration's Department of Justice, Solicitor General Theodore Olson, with Seth Waxman, who was solicitor general for the Clinton administration, in defending the law against a coalition including Republican leadership, the National Rifle Association, the Civil Liberties Union and organized labor.

Waxman, who unsuccessfully defended the National Credit Union Administration before the High Court in 1996 landmark AT&T Family FCU case, now represents the Washington law firm Wilmer, Cutler & Pickering, which represented the American Bankers Association in that same case.

Representing opponents of the ban on soft money, Kenneth Starr, special prosecutor in the Whitewater case, asserted the ban intrudes deeply into the political life of the nation. The opponents have asked the High Court to strike down the soft money ban as an unconstitutional infringement on free speech. But Olson insisted that Congress has sought for more than a century to regulate campaign financing.

The court agreed to hear the arguments in a rare session a month before the traditional October opening in order to try to resolve the case before the onset of next year's congressional and presidential elections.

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