- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 24, 2002

ASSOCIATED PRESS
Election regulators preparing to implement the nation's new campaign finance law are stepping into one of its thorniest issues: to what extent political parties, interest groups and candidates can legally coordinate their spending.
Many of the key players, including the Democratic and Republican national committees, business lobbies and campaign watchdog groups, are offering their views at a two-day Federal Election Commission hearing that started yesterday. The commissioners, too, weighed in.
"Our responsibility is to try and make sense out of what the Congress did. They rejected what we had done in this area and then turned around and gave us no particular guidance, which was not very helpful," Commissioner Danny McDonald said. "Our problem gets to be, I think from a very practical standpoint, what do people know, and what is their relationship with others?"
The new law, due to take effect Nov. 6, the day after the election, will bar the national party committees from raising unlimited donations from businesses, unions and others. The parties spend such contributions, known as soft money, on general party activities such as get-out-the-vote drives and ads on party issues.
The law also directs the FEC to write new rules on the degree to which interest groups, party committees and candidates can share information and strategize with each other about election activities without it counting against federal spending limits.
Also at issue is the level at which interest groups and parties may spend on behalf of presidential and congressional candidates.
The law's sponsors, including Sens. John McCain, Arizona Republican, and Russell D. Feingold, Wisconsin Democrat, say strong coordination rules are crucial to its success. If too high a degree of coordination is allowed, soft money will simply find a new way into federal elections through outside groups working in tandem with parties and candidates, they say.
Gregory Casey, president of the Business Industry Political Action Committee, told the commission it must adopt clear and realistic rules that allow businesses to remain active in elections and lobby Congress effectively.
For example, in examining potential coordination by a company, it should only look at corporate officials with actual authority to make spending decisions, he said. A broader standard "would have a chilling effect across the board" on company employees' ability to talk to their lawmakers without worrying about running afoul of the rules, Mr. Casey said.
Lobby groups including the Republican-leaning U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the Democrat-leaning AFL-CIO, both conducting get-out-the-vote drives across the nation in this fall's election, told the commission in written comments that its rules must protect the constitutional rights to free speech and free association.
The Supreme Court has not yet considered the coordination issue. However, several lobby groups noted a lower court ruling imposing a narrow standard for illegal coordination. That decision, in a case involving the Christian Coalition, has led the FEC to drop a coordination case involving the Democratic Party and AFL-CIO, and one involving the Republican Party and a coalition of business groups.
Commissioner Bradley Smith noted that ruling and others, saying some have found the commission can regulate coordination.
On the other hand, Mr. Smith said: "There are lots of court rulings saying you can only go so far."
Robert Bauer, an attorney for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and its House counterpart, and Donald McGahn, general counsel for the National Republican Congressional Committee, asked the FEC to delay development of new rules on party coordination with candidates. Both said their parties were too busy with the upcoming election to devote the attention that the rule-making deserves.

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