- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 20, 2003

House Republicans yesterday cleared the way to subpoena leaders from Democratic-leaning groups to get them to answer questions about their fund-raising tactics for political campaigns.

Rep. Bob Ney, Ohio Republican and chairman of the House Administration Committee, summoned representatives from private political groups — six Democratic and three Republican — to testify before his committee yesterday, but only the Republicans showed.

The groups targeted by the committee fall under Section 527 of the Internal Revenue Service code. The section, created in 1975, allows groups to accept non-tax-deductible contributions without having to disclose the donors or their expenditures.

Democrats called the hearing a “partisan sham.”

Mr. Ney said Section 527 was being used as a loophole to raise soft money banned under the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act (BCRA) passed by Congress last year.

“As I pointed out repeatedly during debate on BCRA, it did not ban soft money despite incessant claims by its supporters. … Rather, it merely shifted it to new organizations,” Mr. Ney said.

The BCRA passed largely with Democratic backing.

“This is a partisan inquiry evidenced by the imbalance in the number of witnesses called,” said Rep. John B. Larson of Connecticut, the ranking Democrat on the committee.

Mr. Larson said no lawsuits have been filed against any 527 group and that their actions were legal.

Republicans say organizations are using the 527 rule specifically to help Democrats defeat President Bush in the 2004 election.

Billionaire financier George Soros and Peter Lewis, chairman of automobile insurer Progressive Corp., have pledged to spend millions of dollars to defeat Mr. Bush.

Americans Coming Together received a $10 million donation from Mr. Soros.

The 527 organizations can raise “soft money,” the uncapped donations that lawmakers tried to ban through last year’s campaign-finance regulations. The organizations can spend the money on organizing and issue ads, but are not allowed to coordinate with political parties or candidates.

Two Republican activists, Frank J. Donatelli and George J. Terwilliger, announced plans this week to create their own 527 organization, Americans for a Better Country.

Rep. Juanita Millender-McDonald, California Democrat, and Rep. Robert A. Brady, Pennsylvania Democrat, said the 527 groups have a First Amendment right to collect the money without revealing donor or spending information.

Mr. Ney said he didn’t want either party benefiting from political subterfuge.

He said “527s are more active on the Democratic side than the Republican side. However, Republicans are recognizing that we need to get into the game, something I really regret.”

It was not immediately known if or when the committee will issue the subpoenas.

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