RICHMOND, Va. — A federal judge dealt a blow yesterday to the advertising plans of a conservative group that purports to tell "the real truth" about Barack Obama's abortion views.
U.S. District Judge James Spencer denied a preliminary injunction sought by The Real Truth About Obama Inc. against the Federal Election Commission. The injunction would have barred the FEC from enforcing its fundraising and advertising regulations against the Richmond-based group, which was formed by anti-abortion activists.
The organization claimed in court papers that its "issue advocacy" amounts to constitutionally protected free speech that does not expressly advocate the election or defeat of a candidate.
In a brief order, Spencer said the constitutional claim lacked merit and that an injunction would harm the public. He did not elaborate but said a written explanation of his ruling would be issued later.
James Bopp Jr. of Terre Haute, Ind., attorney for The Real Truth About Obama, said he would likely ask the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for an expedited appeal of Spencer's ruling.
"The purpose of the First Amendment is to protect our ability to speak about issues and candidates and do so in a timely way," said Bopp.
Bopp, a member of the Republican National Committee who was an adviser to Mitt Romney's presidential campaign, acknowledged that time is running short but said he still believed the group could launch its project before the Nov. 4 election.
An FEC spokesman declined to comment on Spencer's ruling. But David Kolker, an attorney for the FEC, said during oral arguments on Sept. 10 that the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that campaign restrictions can be applied to activities that are "the functional equivalent of express advocacy."
According to Bopp, his clients cannot solicit funds or begin their advertising campaign because of the threat of hefty fines or criminal prosecution.
The anti-abortion group wants to run ads on its Web site and on the Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity talk shows in key states. One ad features an Obama-like voice saying he would make taxpayers pay for all abortions, ensure minors' abortions are concealed from their parents, appoint more liberal Supreme Court justices and legalize the late-term procedure that abortion opponents call "partial-birth" abortion.
Sen. Obama's campaign has declined to respond to the organization's claims. The Democratic presidential nominee supports abortion rights.