- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 23, 2002

Expect state parties and outside interest groups to become more powerful but not much more to change when campaign finance regulations passed by Congress this week take effect next year, say observers on both sides of the battle.
"Gone will be one easy avenue for big money, which is the opportunity to write huge checks to the national parties, but absent that everything else will remain pretty much as it is," said Ellen S. Miller, senior fellow at the American Prospect magazine, who says the regulations have some "design flaws."
The bill prohibits national political parties from taking "soft money," the uncapped donations used for organization activities and for issue ads, as opposed to small-dollar "hard money" contributions. It also prohibits interest groups from running issue ads paid for with soft money in the weeks before an election.
Ms. Miller said that the regulations, which the president said he will sign into law, will reduce the amount of money in politics for a few years but that soon the system will reach an equilibrium very much like it is at now, with the two parties settling in and incumbents enjoying even more of an advantage in races.
Phil Kent at the Southeastern Legal Foundation said the new law would have both enforcement problems and loopholes.
"Everything is so vague and broad, I think the first problem's going to be with the Federal Election Commission; they're going to have a tremendous headache facing them," he said. The FEC will have to write rules implementing the law.
Mr. Kent, who is planning to join a suit against the regulations, said the new system will just put a lot more focus on interest groups, which can still raise and spend soft money under the new rules, and will strengthen state and local parties, which can still collect soft money to be used for organization activities.
But Seth Amgott, a spokesman for Common Cause, which strongly backed the regulations, said that getting the money out of politics wasn't the point and that ending the connection between politicians and large donations was the goal.
"To the extent that the money goes to 'hard donations,' to groups, it will have ended that corrupting transaction where a member of Congress or a candidate for Senate solicits one of these huge contributions," he said.
Even the bill's staunchest supporters don't expect anything to change until the law takes effect after November's election.
"I think it's too late in the cycle for us to make any changes," said Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, South Dakota Democrat. "We know what the rules are. We're going to play by them and start over next year."
For now, some national political committees said they are telling donors that this is the last year to make a big donation. But others say such a pitch to party contributors is not necessary.
"Our fund-raising team is doing the same thing that broke every record in the books last year," said Kevin Sheridan, a spokesman for the National Republican Committee.
At the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, spokeswoman Tovah Ravitz said they have increased their focus on raising hard money. That will help them be ready for a new era in which small-dollar contributors will be critical.
Fund raisers at the Democratic National Committee are also building their small-donor list, but spokeswoman Maria Cardona said they are making every pitch they can to raise soft money as well.
"We would be remiss in the Democratic Party if we did not," she said.
One component of that is collecting soft money for a new headquarters. The DNC recently received a check for $7 million from one donor and $5 million from another for its building fund.
Republicans say they are just fine with that, since it's money that won't be spent on elections this year. But Ms. Cardona said the money was committed last year and isn't coming out of this year's campaign funds.

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