Sunday, May 23, 2004

Three lawmakers who drafted the last round of campaign-finance reform legislation have crafted a bill to overhaul the Federal Elections Commission, calling the body ineffective and inefficient.

Rep. Christopher Shays of Connecticut and Sen. John McCain of Arizona, both Republicans, and Sen. Russell D. Feingold, Wisconsin Democrat, said the commission’s failure to draft regulations of private groups aiming to influence federal elections was proof that the panel cannot do the job.

Last week, Mr. Shays introduced in the House a bill to reduce the six-member FEC to a three-member panel. Members of the new commission would be appointed by the president and confirmed by the Senate. Current FEC members would be ineligible.

The chairman would serve a 10-year term, and the two other members would have staggered six-year terms with no reappointments.

“The FEC is charged with enforcing election law, but has failed to do so. It is time to rethink their fitness for the job,” Mr. Shays said.

“By improving the way the campaign law-enforcement body operates, this legislation will ensure federal election law is fairly implemented and fully enforced.”

The Senate version of the Federal Election Administration Act has been languishing in Congress since July.

On May 13, the FEC voted 4-2 against a proposal to regulate contributions to “527 groups” — so called because they pay taxes under Section 527 of the Internal Revenue Service code — and 6-0 to forgo for 90 days any decision on how to regulate the groups.

Under current law, those groups can collect unlimited contributions from individuals, unions and corporations — exactly the source of the “soft money” that the McCain-Feingold campaign-finance bill prohibited parties from collecting.

FEC Chairman Bradley A. Smith said in a Committee on House Administration hearing Thursday that if Congress wanted 527 groups to be regulated by the FEC, then it should have written the law to say that.

Mr. Shays said the 2003 bill didn’t have to do anything because the FEC already has the power to regulate such groups.

“The Federal Election Campaign Act of 1974 requires 527 groups, whose major purpose is to influence federal elections, and who spend more than $1,000 for this purpose, to register as federal political committees and comply with federal campaign finance laws,” Mr. Shays said.

He said the FEC has failed to act against 527 groups for 30 years.

A majority of 527s are Democrat-leaning groups, such as Redefeat Bush, Americans Coming Together and the Media Fund, spending millions of dollars on advertisements that specifically criticize President Bush.

Republican-leaning 527 groups, even those in favor of campaign-finance regulation such as the Mainstreet Individual Fund, said they will begin seeking more contributions.

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