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7 Groups Join to Resist Panel Subpoenas

By Helen Dewar
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, September 4, 1997; Page A12

An array of often-feuding advocacy groups joined forces yesterday to fight subpoenas issued by the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee in its investigation into campaign finance abuses.

Seven groups, spanning the political spectrum from the Teamsters to the Christian Coalition, objected to the scope of the subpoenas for documents about their political and legislative activities and urged their withdrawal because they constitute an "overly broad, unduly burdensome and oppressive" threat to their constitutional freedoms.

"We believe that these subpoenas are a thinly disguised attack on the right of all private organizations, of whatever viewpoint, to participate actively and effectively in the political life of this nation," said the American Civil Liberties Union in supporting the protesting groups.

If necessary, the ACLU and the subpoenaed groups will go to court to defend their position, they said.

In addition to the Teamsters and Christian Coalition, the groups that protested the subpoenas yesterday, in a letter to Republican and Democratic committee lawyers, included the Association of Trial Lawyers of America, Citizen Action, Citizens Against Government Waste, the National Council of Senior Citizens and the National Right to Life Committee. Several other groups, including the AFL-CIO, also have separately complained to the committee and said they may not comply with all the panel's requests.

Committee spokesman Paul Clark disagreed with the groups' complaints, saying the panel was not seeking donor or membership lists protected by the First Amendment but limited its request to information involving illegal or improper coordination with political parties or campaigns, use of political action committees to get around donation limits and use of union funds for political purposes.

Clark said a showdown is approaching with the AFL-CIO, which is under an order to submit a scaled-down list of documents by Sept. 8. If it fails to do so, the committee will consider issuing a contempt citation, he said.

James Bopp Jr., representing the National Right to Life Committee, said there was no quarrel over documents relevant to the committee's inquiry, such as financial reports, but the committee has no valid grounds to seek confidential communications dealing with issue advocacy and strategy that fall under First Amendment protections. "Since Congress is constitutionally prohibited from regulating this activity, the subpoenas requesting these documents are beyond the lawful authority of Congress to regulate and, therefore, for the committee to investigate," Bopp said.

The challenge to the subpoenas comes as the panel prepares to focus on fund-raising activities of Vice President Gore as it resumes hearings today. Twenty-six nonprofit advocacy groups received subpoenas in late July, with each party on the panel targeting groups that usually oppose it. Many of these and other tax-exempt groups spent heavily on "issue advocacy" in connection with last year's campaign. The groups are permitted to advocate positions on issues as long as they do not advocate the election or defeat of specific candidates.

Bopp said so many documents have been subpoenaed that the committee cannot possibly review them all, and he called the demands a "partisan fishing expedition."

The ACLU`s Laura W. Murphy and Arthur B. Spitzer said the subpoenas "constitute harassment and interference of a particularly invidious kind, for [they] effectively require the subpoenaed groups to share with the political adversaries . . . documents that will reveal their strategic and tactical plans, their budget deliberations and fund-raising techniques."

© Copyright 1997 The Washington Post Company

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