- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 13, 2002

Campaign-finance reform legislation to ban soft money in federal elections will not eliminate it, but merely redirect it to other powerful interest groups, legal analysts said yesterday.
The House neared final action today on legislation to further regulate campaign financing that its supporters say will rid presidential and congressional elections of big, unregulated money. But that is not how campaign lawyers and strategists see the results of pending legislation.
They predict that the soft money will shift quickly to national political advocacy and grass-roots organizations such as unions, the National Rifle Association, right-to-life groups and environmentalist forces. Independent political committees will be big beneficiaries, too, as will wealthy individuals who will be free to finance nationwide television ad campaigns of their own.
"I think we are going into a world of unintended consequences. This is not going to get rid of the soft money. It will just redirect it and put it in other places in a way that is less accountable and less disclosed," said Don McGahn, general counsel to the National Republican Congressional Committee.
The soft-money ban will "generally reduce some of those large contributions, but there are other people who want to get money into the political arena and they will do so using whatever legal avenues are open to them," said Kent Cooper, founder of Political Moneyline, which tracks political expenditures. "And no one has dreamed up a system that will totally keep that money out."
Throughout the lengthy battle over campaign-finance reform, supporters have insisted that it will once and for all remove the influence of union and corporate funding to the two major parties. But analysts said yesterday that, while the parties will see their funding fall in the short term, the reforms will lead to powerful "mini-parties" who will become surrogates for the major parties.
"The biggest losers are going to be the political parties, because they will be defunded of half a billion dollars. In the 2000 elections, each party raised approximately $250 million in soft money that they presumably will not have in the bank account in future elections," said Jan Baran, an election-law lawyer.
"The flip side of this is that it makes other national organizations that are not political parties relatively more important. Because if you have millions of members across the country and the states, you can organize them, using your own soft money and get them out to vote," Mr. Baran said.
"This will be to the advantage of organized labor, environmental groups, the Christian Coalition, the NRA, the abortion groups, and so on. These become the new important mini-parties," he said.
Moreover, said Mr. Baran, many of these special-interest groups will have more money to spend in the campaigns because "they will no longer be contributing soft money to political parties."
Another major winner of the campaign-reform bill would be congressional incumbents, because it would double the contribution limits from $1,000 to $2,000. Since House and Senate incumbents have built much larger lists of contributors to their past campaigns, they would have a further advantage over any challengers.
Incumbents would be helped in two other ways. With less money going to the parties, the Republicans and the Democrats would have less money to go after vulnerable incumbents in the other party. The bill also would ban television ads by advocacy groups in the last 60 days of a campaign. Those groups have historically sought to defeat incumbents.
However, Mr. Baran predicted yesterday that if campaign-finance reform passes in the House, supporters soon will be back seeking additional spending limits.
"They are going to try to ban as much political activity as they can. But in a few years, if this passes, the reformers will be back complaining that they need more restrictions on political activity," he said.

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