- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 17, 2008

The House Democratic fundraising arm yesterday filed a complaint with the Federal Election Commission accusing its Republican counterpart of illegally colluding with a conservative advocacy group on campaign activities.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) says the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) and the nonprofit group Freedom’s Watch violated federal election laws by working together on a television advertisement that attacked Democratic House candidate Don Cazayoux of Louisiana, who is running in a special election May 3.

The DCCC says a Microsoft Word computer file of the ad sent to a Louisiana TV station contained an electronic identifier with the name Carl Forti, a Freedom’s Watch official and a former NRCC employee.

Political party committees are barred from coordinating with outside groups on ads that refer to federal candidates within 90 days of an election.

“We call upon the Commission to conduct an immediate and complete investigation to determine just how the NRCC came to be involved in this ad, and to determine the nature of the relationship between the party committee and the shadowy outside group that does its bidding,” DCCC Executive Director Brian Wolff wrote in a letter to the Federal Election Commission (FEC). “The Commission should seek injunctive relief and the highest penalties allowed by law.

The NRCC says the case is full of overtones of conspiracy theories and has no substance.

“The DCCC thinks they see black helicopters,” said NRCC spokesman Ken Spain. “All of their politically motivated efforts will not distract from the fact that their hand-picked candidate has a long and public record of raising taxes.”

A spokesman for Freedom’s Watch said the electronic identifier with Mr. Forti’s name was created by an outside vendor who used the same Microsoft Word template for multiple clients. The spokesman said the two groups have not coordinated on any campaigning.

“I think this is a sensational complaint that gets very boring very quickly when you hear the other side of the story,” said Freedom’s Watch spokesman Ed Patru. “It’s a preposterous charge. It’s stuff that they’re going to use for fundraisers.”

Republicans add that even the DCCC’s letter to the FEC says that “it’s impossible to know from the available facts the exact nature of the relationship between the NRCC and the Freedom’s Watch script.”

Freedom’s Watch, described by some as the conservative answer to the liberal group MoveOn.org, spent millions of advertising dollars last year promoting the Bush administration’s Iraq war efforts.

The DCCC, which has a large fundraising advantage over the NRCC, has been bracing for Freedom’s Watch to take a more active role in congressional races this year.

NRCC Chairman “Tom Cole may have gotten his wish when Freedom’s Watch came to the NRCC’s rescue, but breaking the law will be the NRCC’s worst nightmare,” Mr. Wolff said.

It’s not clear what penalties the NRCC faces if the FEC finds violations of the law. The agency’s board has discretion to impose penalties.

The case will have to wait for a quorum on the six-member board, which is down to two members.

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