Free speech in San Diego GOP platform: Christian Coalition prevails by relying on First Amendment.

August 09, 1996

FOR RALPH REED, director of the Christian Coalition, the drafting of the Republican platform this week was a glorious victory. Undeterred by the Federal Election Committee's challenge to his organization's political tactics, he emerged as the most powerful non-delegate in San Diego.

His control of the GOP Platform Committee was so decisive he ran roughshod over the wishes of presidential candidate Robert Dole by imposing a tough anti-abortion plank and relegating pro-choice views to an "appendix" about as useful as the human organ of the same name. "The fat lady has sung," he declared.

Mr. Reed's ascendancy has implications far beyond the usual maneuvering for position at next week's Republican National Convention. It is a triumph for the doctrine of "issues advocacy," one that in its severest form holds that the First Amendment bars any limits on political speech or spending.

Special-interest groups ranging from the AFL-CIO to the Sierra Club to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce see the courts chipping away at Watergate-era restrictions and are pushing their opening to the limits. This year's election may see a flood of political advertising and "voter guides" with an unmistakable tilt.

The FEC may be right that the Christian Coalition violated current law by allegedly giving all sorts of direct support and guidance to Republican candidates. But this presupposes that current law banning such "express advocacy" will pass muster with the Supreme Court.

That's a dubious proposition. On June 26, a 7-2 court majority threw out limits on what political parties may spend on behalf of a candidate, so long as they operate independently. Four of these justices (one short of a majority) said there should be no limits, whether there is coordination or not.

One of the ironies of modern politics is that well-meaning reforms in campaign financing often boomerang when they try to break the connection between money and politics. Loopholes are always available. The best safeguards for voters are bright sunshine laws requiring the strictest kind of reporting of all expenditures and activities.

This newspaper may not agree with the Christian Coalition demand for a constitutional ban on abortion. But we support Mr. Reed's constitutional freedom-of-speech right to pursue his political agenda.

Pub Date: 8/09/96

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