- The Washington Times - Saturday, May 22, 2004

The Federal Election Commission (FEC) virtually guaranteed last week that it will be placing no restrictions on the burgeoning Section 527 political committees and their fund-raising activities through the presidential and congressional elections in November. Immediately, there were predictions that the rest of the campaign season would soon evolve into a Wild West shootout and soft-money free-for-all.

In a statement issued following the FEC’s decision to take no action against 527 political committees, which are named for the section of the IRS code under which they are registered, Republican National Committee Chairman Ed Gillespie and Bush re-election chairman Marc Racicot predicted that “the battle of the 527s is likely to escalate to a full-scale, two-sided war.”

In fact, a full-scale war involving 527 combatants has been in progress for months, but it has been almost completely one-sided. A two-sided battle would require Republicans and their conservative interest-group allies to arm themselves in response to a massive onslaught from liberal 527s, which have already spent tens of millions of dollars, raised tens of millions more and laid the groundwork for doubling and re-doubling those impressive efforts on their way to a $300 million soft-money kitty.

Recent events have dashed the once-bright financial hopes of President Bush and his fellow Republicans. They reasonably expected to exploit their considerable advantages over Democrats in raising regulated, limited, relatively small hard-money contributions after the McCain-Feingold campaign-finance legislation barred national political party committees from raising unrestricted, unlimited soft-money contributions from unions, corporations and wealthy individuals. Then, Democratic Sen. John Kerry, whose fund-raising collapsed during the second half of 2003, felt compelled to self-finance his faltering campaign last winter, a decision that enabled him to bypass state and pre-convention spending limits. By March 2, Mr. Kerry emerged victorious from his party’s primaries, during which he and his fellow Democrats raised and spent nearly $200 million, or four times the amount spent by the campaign of Mr. Bush, against whom much of the Democrats’ $200 million was directed.

Since securing the Democratic nomination March 2, Mr. Kerry, unencumbered by fund-raising limits that would have accompanied federal matching funds, has raised an additional $70 million. But even that impressive sum is dwarfed by liberal 527 committees. According to data downloaded from the IRS through May 16, the Center for Responsive Politics estimates that 527 committees have raised nearly $180 million and spent more than $150 million in the 2003-04 election cycle. The vast majority of those funds have gone to Democratic-oriented 527s. Indeed, 100 percent of the $37.1 million in soft money cumulatively contributed by the top 18 individual donors, each of whom gave a minimum of $500,000, went to Democratic 527s. Suddenly, Mr. Bush’s $200 million war chest looks much less formidable.

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