- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 22, 2004

The four authors of the 2002 campaign-finance law introduced a measure yesterday they say will finish the job that they started and end two years of criticism, infighting and indecision by the Federal Election Commission.

The new bill, which is expected to be taken up by Congress next year, would require so-called “527” groups to register as federal political committees if more than $1,000 is spent on any activity to influence a federal election.

Political committees are subject to several funding limitations, including a $5,000 cap on donations from individuals per year and a ban on contributions from corporations and unions.

“Our purpose here is simple: to pass legislation that will do what the FEC could and should do under current law,” said Sen. Russell D. Feingold, Wisconsin Democrat.

Mr. Feingold joined his fellow sponsors of the 2002 campaign-finance law — Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican; Rep. Christopher Shays, Connecticut Republican; and Rep. Martin T. Meehan, Massachusetts Democrat — to jointly introduce the 527 Reform Act yesterday.

The bill would explicitly limit how much money 527s — private political groups named for the section of the tax code that governs them — can raise and spend in a given election cycle.

The sponsors said they hope the bill finally will eliminate unlimited corporate, union and other special-interest contributions, called “soft money,” from the elections process.

Current FEC regulations allow political committees to sponsor voter drives and purchase television time for issue and direct-advocacy advertisements for specific candidates using nearly unlimited and unregulated contributions.

A federal district court judge on Monday ruled in a suit filed by Mr. Meehan and Mr. Shays that 15 of the 19 regulations drafted by the FEC to implement the 2002 Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act (BCRA) were illegal and also violated the 1974 Federal Elections Campaign Act, for either “circumventing the law,” improperly interpreting the law or having “no rational basis.”

“What is unbelievable is that even with language like that from the federal courts, the FEC said it will continue to enforce the regulations,” said Mr. McCain, who with Mr. Feingold filed an advisory brief to the court.

Mr. McCain cited the ruling by Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly and called for the immediate resignations of Ellen L. Weintraub, FEC vice chairwoman, and Bradley A. Smith, its chairman.

“We will now begin next year restructuring the FEC … they are enablers of loopholes in the law, and it has to be fixed,” Mr. McCain said.

The lawsuit challenged 19 provisions of the FEC’s BCRA regulations, including a number of key areas where the new regulations threatened to seriously undermine the law by creating major loopholes. These involve, among other things, regulations concerning coordination, soft money fund-raising solicitations and soft money restrictions for state parties.

The 527 bill seeks to remedy the loopholes by creating new limits. If passed next year, all political-action committees would be required to use at least 50 percent hard money — federally regulated donations from individuals — in sponsoring, get-out-the vote drives, and contributions from individuals for nonfederal activities would be capped at $25,000 per year.

“After the [BCRA] law was passed and enforced by what I believe is a corrupt FEC, we are now again forced to act here,” said Mr. Shays. “So when you’re talking about America Coming Together, the Media Fund or Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, they are campaigning, and that is illegal.”

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