- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 9, 2002

Rep. Christopher Shays and other advocates of overhauling campaign finance laws filed suit yesterday, hoping to overturn the Federal Election Commission's new regulations implementing their law.
Mr. Shays, Connecticut Republican, and his allies persuaded Congress to pass and the president to sign their bill in March, but campaign finance reform advocates say the FEC has drawn the regulations so that they actually retain many of the loopholes lawmakers hoped to close.
"We just want them to implement the law and not make up law through regulation," he said. "It's something I thought that that's what Republicans believed in, but I gather in this instance it's all right to rewrite law by a commission if you happen not to agree with it."
Mr. Shays and Rep. Martin T. Meehan, Massachusetts Democrat, will be the lead plaintiffs. The issue's principal Senate sponsors Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican, and Sen. Russell D. Feingold, Wisconsin Democrat will file a supporting legal brief.
But one of the six FEC commissioners, Michael E. Toner, said the panel followed the law.
"We welcome the legal challenge," he said. "We're very confident the regulations are fully consistent with the statute."
He said the lawsuit goes further than seeking to overturn the regulations and in some cases asks the courts to go further than the law itself reads.
One example is the act's effective date, which by law is Nov. 6, the day after this year's elections.
In an explanation of the lawsuit, officials at Democracy 21, which will help Mr. Shays pursue the case, said the commission adopted a "grandfather" provision that would let parties set up and fund outside organizations before Nov. 6 that could operate into the future.
But Mr. Toner said the law sets a specific effective date, which commissioners followed.
"What they're seeking to do is read out of existence that effective date," Mr. Toner said. "They want to retroactively apply this law to that activity [before Nov. 6], and in the rule-making we decided that isn't appropriate."
The commission is traditionally split between Republican- and Democratic-backed members. Mr. Toner is a Republican-backed member who was appointed earlier this year. The three Republicans have been joined by one Democratic-backed member in writing the new regulations.
That member is expected to be replaced before the end of the year, but advocates of the new law say many of the thorniest regulations will have been decided.
One of the biggest sticking points is over what federal politicians can and cannot do when attending state and local party events. The law specifically allows politicians to attend those events, but the law's backers don't want the federal candidates to be able to raise money for the parties. Mr. Toner, though, says their lawsuit would force the government to regulate what the politicians say while at an event to make sure they don't make an appeal for money.
The lawsuit also asks the courts to extend the ban on using "soft money" the previously unlimited donations made to parties, rather than directly to candidates, by unions, corporations and other entities to activities on the Internet. The advocates argue the regulations establish a loophole using soft money for e-mail and Internet campaigning.
But Mr. Toner said covering the Internet just wasn't part of the bill.
"They want the court to order the FEC to regulate the Internet," he said. "I don't know about you, but I haven't seen a single member of Congress indicate that's what they want to happen here."
In addition to the lawsuit, Mr. McCain and Mr. Feingold are introducing a resolution to invoke the Congressional Review Act, which if passed by both houses and signed by the president would overturn the FEC's regulations.
Mr. McCain acknowledged that measure won't make it very far in the legislative process this year, but he said they will make a strong effort next year and also pursue legislation to restructure the FEC itself.


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