- The Washington Times - Saturday, November 12, 2005

ASSOCIATED PRESS

The federal case against one of President Bush’s boosters in Ohio is a signal to political campaigns that they will suffer more grief than usual if their biggest fundraisers run afoul of campaign finance laws.

Criminal provisions of the 2002 Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act, also known as “McCain-Feingold,” were invoked in the Oct. 27 arrest of coin dealer Tom Noe, a leading Republican fundraiser in the Toledo area. The Justice Department says it’s the largest case of its kind under the law.

Mr. Noe pleaded not guilty Oct. 31 in federal court in Toledo to charges he illegally funneled $45,400 to the Bush re-election campaign. He had pledged to raise $50,000 for the campaign at an event in Columbus on Oct. 30, 2003, but, according to the indictment, paid friends to contribute money when the event fell short of the goal.

In the past, schemes to launder campaign money were considered civil cases for the Federal Election Commission to handle or had to be prosecuted criminally in a roundabout way, under the guise of causing false statements to be made to the government.

McCain-Feingold provides for criminal penalties for the fundraiser and, consequently, greater embarrassment for the campaign. It might even open the door wider for court action against the campaigns themselves, said Larry Noble, a former general counsel for the FEC.

“Criminally, I don’t know if you can hold the campaign liable,” said Mr. Noble, who runs the nonprofit Center for Responsive Politics. “But civilly, if you can show the campaign had reckless disregard for the law, you could go after them for that.”

More rules and regulations may be needed to protect politicians who can’t keep tabs on their armies of solicitors, said Dan Hoffheimer, a Democratic National Committee member who served as a lawyer for Massachusetts Democratic Sen. John Kerry’s 2004 presidential campaign in Ohio.

“Campaigns need to continue to take a more active role in supervising the activities of their people in the field, but the problem is, how do we create a clear set of written rules for doing that?” Mr. Hoffheimer said.

Veteran Democratic campaign chief Craig Smith said fundraising rules have always been imperfect — and continue to be.

“Being sloppy has a damaging effect on campaigns, but because of the campaign finance laws in this country there always will be problems,” said Mr. Smith, who ran the Democratic presidential campaigns of then-Vice President Al Gore and Sen. Joe Lieberman. “All you can do is make your best effort.”

Lawmakers who pushed for campaign-finance reform say they hope the Noe case forces politicians to review how they motivate supporters with honorary titles and rewards of ambassadorships and other political appointments.

McCain-Feingold doesn’t discourage such practices. It can, however, make the campaigns more careful about who gets those titles.

“We have procedures in place to make sure we’re following FEC regulations, and we’ve always done that,” said Republican National Committee spokesman Aaron McLear. “We’re doing all we can do to ensure these donations are given appropriately.”