Pro-Life Group Hails 'Huge Win for Free Speech'

By Susan Jones | July 7, 2008 | 8:32 PM EDT

( - A pro-life group calls it a "huge" win for free speech and grassroots lobbying: A federal court in Washington seems to have poked a tiny hole in the McCain/Feingold Campaign Finance Law by ruling that issue ads sponsored by grassroots groups may air within 30 days of an election.

At issue were three television and radio ads that Wisconsin Right to Life aired in 2004.

The ads informed the public that U.S. senators were filibustering President Bush's conservative judicial nominees, and the ads asked viewers to urge Sens. Russ Feingold and Herbert Kohl (Wisconsin Democrats) to oppose the filibusters.

Wisconsin Right to Life filed a motion to air the ads within 30 days of the Wisconsin primary election.

The McCain/Feingold law established a blackout period 30 days prior to a primary election and 60 days prior to a general election where groups may not mention the name of a candidate on the ballot. In 2004, Senator Feingold was on the primary election ballot.

"Wisconsin Right to Life successfully argued that grassroots lobbying ads which do not mention or refer to elections should be allowed to be aired as a free speech right protected by the First Amendment, and the court agreed," said Barbara Lyons, executive director of Wisconsin Right to Life.

"One of the most basic rights enjoyed by our democracy is one which allows citizen groups to petition the government on issues of public interest. It is extremely gratifying to know that our courts are willing to protect such a basic right," she added.

The federal court rejected arguments by the Federal Election Commission that the ads in question were a thinly disguised attempt to influence the 2004 election.

"Fortunately, the court disagreed with this distorted description of our ads," said Lyons.

An appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court is expected, Wisconsin Right to Life said.

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