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News Briefs

Business Assures Homeland Security Officials


Big utilities and the transportation, communications, and oil industries are resigned that they will not be able to fully protect themselves from terrorist attack, but are confident they could recover sufficiently to function in the wake of one, homeland security officials were told Thursday.

The same factor that makes them most vulnerable -- a network of widely dispersed sets -- also allows them to circumvent interruptions, whether the target is railroad lines, fiber optics cables or oil pipelines, industry representatives told a conference sponsored by the Western Governors’ Association and the federal Critical Infrastructure Assurance Office.

The nation’s financially strapped towns and cities face their own problems in responding to terrorism because the federal government has not provided funding to bolster local emergency services, one speaker complained.

“We still face enormous needs,” said Mary Poss, a Dallas city councilwoman and co-chair of the homeland security task force of the National League of Cities. Last month’s passage of the Homeland Security Act provided no funding for local emergency crews, she noted, “and cities were very disappointed.”

If local governments make homeland security a priority, without federal aid they will have to eliminate other public services, Poss said.

Court Hears Final Campaign Finance Arguments


Two days of arguments aimed at overturning a far-reaching campaign-finance law wrapped up in federal court Thursday with lawyers continuing to assert that it cracks down too hard on political parties, interest groups and wealthy donors.

But one stood up to charge that the law is a raw deal for the little guy.

John Bonifaz, an attorney representing a group of individuals he said are ordinary Americans, urged a special three-judge panel to strike down certain provisions in the law that increase the amounts of money presidential and congressional candidates can raise directly.

The judges, Bonifaz said, would have to decide whether federal elections will be “open only to the wealthy and well-connected, or whether our elections will be open to all.”

The law enacted earlier this year prohibits national parties from raising so-called “soft money” -- largely unregulated donations often given in six- and seven-figure checks. That is a central point of dispute in the court case, McConnell vs. Federal Election Commission, that challenges the law as unconstitutional.

But the law also expands the ability of candidates for federal office to raise campaign contributions by doubling a decades-old limit on individual donations, to $2,000 per election from $1,000. Such donations are known as hard money.

As arguments ended in U.S. District Court, plaintiffs continued to probe for weaknesses in the most significant campaign law of the past quarter-century.

Some attacked a provision banning donations by minors. Government attorneys countered that it was meant to stop parents from circumventing donation limits.

Others questioned a section that restricts communication between interest groups and candidates or parties. Government lawyers said that without this restriction, candidates and parties could benefit from large sums of money spent by interest groups on political activity.

The panel is expected to issue its ruling by early next year. The case is then expected to move directly to the Supreme Court for final review.