SAN FRANCISCO — A federal judge Friday dismissed a lawsuit by Ross Perot's Reform Party, which claimed that the laws that govern federal elections and campaign funding are unconstitutional and enforced in a discriminatory way against third parties.
U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker said the campaign funding law, which provides different amounts of federal money to presidential candidates based on their parties' share of the vote in the last election, was upheld by the Supreme Court in 1976. He said a lower federal judge has no power to reconsider it, despite the Reform Party's claim that the ruling has been undermined by two decades of biased enforcement.
He also rejected the party's claim that the composition of the Federal Election Commission--three Democrats and three Republicans throughout its existence--violates the constitutional rights of other parties and their members. Walker said the Supreme Court upheld the composition of the U.S. Sentencing Commission, which, like the FEC, was created by a law limiting the number of appointments from one political party.
The Reform Party also contended that the Democratic and Republican presidential campaigns in 1996, with FEC approval, flouted federal restrictions on the use of "soft money" contributed by corporations and labor unions.
But Walker said the party's claim of harm from the alleged violations could not be addressed in a federal court lawsuit. Apart from exerting political pressure on the FEC and Congress, the party's only legal option is to ask a federal judge in Washington, D.C., to tell the FEC to enforce the law, he said.
He also dismissed the party's claim of unfair business practices under California law, saying the law does not apply to campaign activities.
The Reform Party's national chairman, Russel J. Verney, said the ruling meant that the case probably will not be resolved before the presidential election in 2000. "It's going to take a very courageous court to look at a system that's gone awry," he said, adding that "it's going to go to the Supreme Court."