March 21, 2012
A lawyer for a conservative group that claims its ads would tell "the real truth" about President Barack Obama's abortion views told an appeals court Wednesday that the organization should not be subject to federal restrictions on fundraising and advertising.
The Real Truth About Obama Inc. is appealing a judge's refusal to free it from regulations governing political action committees. The organization, which first sought an injunction before Obama's 2008 election, is continuing its court battle in hopes of running "issue advocacy" ads as the president seeks re-election.
The group claims that Federal Election Commission rules defining PACs and regulating activities that "expressly advocate" the election or defeat of a candidate are unconstitutionally broad and vague, and that the type of advertising it plans is constitutionally protected free speech. A judge dismissed the organization's lawsuit in September 2008, and the group appealed.
A three-judge panel of the 4th U.S. Circuit Appeals is expected to rule in a few weeks.
The Fredericksburg-based organization was formed by abortion opponents. It wants to run ads on its website and on conservative talk shows highlighting what it claims are Obama's views on abortion. One of those ads, according to court papers, features an Obama-like voice talking about the issue — a prospect that seemed to rankle appeals court Judge Roger Gregory.
"You have a voice deceptively trying to imitate him?" Gregory asked James Bopp Jr., attorney for the organization.
"It's clearly not him," Bopp said, who also acknowledged that the words spoken by Obama sound-alike were not direct quotes from the president.
Gregory asked Bopp if the group's purpose was really to defeat Obama, who supports abortion rights.
"No, our purpose is to tell the truth about his record," Bopp said.
Judge Paul V. Niemeyer suggested that the group's ads could be viewed as the "functional equivalent" of advocating the defeat of a candidate, which would make the organization subject to FEC's rules governing political committees.
Adav Noti, an attorney for the FEC, told the appeals court that The Real Truth About Obama is free to run whatever ads it wants.
"The group just has to disclose who gave the money to pay for the ad," Noti said. "There is no speech restriction at issue here."
Bopp, a member of the Republican National Committee, was an adviser to Mitt Romney's presidential campaign in 2008 and has endorsed the former Massachusetts governor in the 2012 race.