Supporters of campaign-finance regulation yesterday vented their frustration at the Federal Election Commission for failing to curb independent groups that are using huge "soft money" donations to change the political landscape.
"There is no conceivable justification for the FEC to fail to act," said Sen. John McCain, the Arizona Republican who was a primary author of the ban on unlimited "soft money" in federal elections.
The FEC, set to take up the issue today, signaled in advance that it remains divided over how to deal with the groups, which are running massive voter-mobilization drives and filling the airwaves with hard-hitting advertisements.
Many of these projects are financed by labor unions and wealthy people who make multimillion-dollar donations -- the so-called "soft money" that new campaign-finance laws forbid political parties and candidates to accept. So far, the FEC has not issued rules on how the new law applies to independent groups.
Saying that the FEC has "one last chance on Thursday to act responsibly," Mr. McCain fired off a statement insisting that groups whose "major purpose" is to influence federal elections must register with the federal government and restrict their contributions.
Joining his protest, the watchdog organizations Democracy 21 and Campaign Legal Center blamed the FEC for allowing the private groups, often dubbed "527s" for the section of the tax code that authorizes them, "to brazenly operate outside these laws during the 2004 elections."
The six-member FEC has been deadlocked on the issue, with only two members favoring a comprehensive crackdown on the groups.