Fund Fight

Progressive 527s fend off Republican attacks

Nicholas Halverson

On May 13, a six-mem­ber bipar­ti­san pan­el of the Fed­er­al Elec­tion Com­mis­sion (FEC) will decide whether Demo­c­rat-affil­i­at­ed groups pushed McCain-Fein­gold cam­paign finance laws beyond the inten­tion of the law — which could fun­da­men­tal­ly reshape their fundrais­ing efforts this elec­tion season.

The vote comes after months of GOP com­plaints that Demo­c­ra­t­ic groups are cir­cum­vent­ing finance laws by using mas­sive soft mon­ey con­tri­bu­tions to under­mine the Bush reelec­tion strategy.

Most recent­ly, the Bush camp and the Repub­li­can Par­ty accused Sen­a­tor John Ker­ry and sev­er­al Demo­c­ra­t­ic orga­ni­za­tions of vio­lat­ing the Bipar­ti­san Cam­paign Reform Act (BCRA or McCain-Fein­gold). Repub­li­cans claim that 527” groups such as MoveOn​.org Vot­er Fund, the Media Fund and Amer­i­ca Com­ing Togeth­er are ille­gal­ly in cahoots with the Ker­ry cam­paign by pur­chas­ing tele­vi­sion adver­tise­ments that sup­port the Demo­c­ra­t­ic candidate.

Falling under the sec­tion of fed­er­al tax code that named them, 527s are able to col­lect unlim­it­ed con­tri­bu­tions of soft mon­ey from cor­po­ra­tions, labor unions and inde­pen­dent donors. Polit­i­cal neu­tral­i­ty is required, how­ev­er, in order for these groups to fund vot­er dri­ves and TV com­mer­cials. As long as they don’t direct­ly coor­di­nate with a polit­i­cal par­ty, these groups are free to use unlim­it­ed con­tri­bu­tions how­ev­er they please.

If the FEC deems the 527’s polit­i­cal ini­tia­tives as too col­lab­o­ra­tive, unre­strict­ed mil­lion-dol­lar con­tri­bu­tions will be curbed and indi­vid­ual dona­tions will be lim­it­ed to $5,000. Cor­po­rate and labor union con­tri­bu­tions also would be barred under this ruling.

As of March 22 the Bush cam­paign had raised $158 mil­lion com­pared to the Ker­ry campaign’s $41 mil­lion. Repub­li­cans now claim that groups like the Media Fund, run by for­mer Clin­ton White House aide Harold Ick­es, are oper­at­ing a shad­ow” Demo­c­ra­t­ic Par­ty by air­ing $5 mil­lion worth of anti-Bush tele­vi­sion ads.

Media Fund spokes­woman Sarah Leonard writes off the alle­ga­tions as vin­tage Repub­li­can intim­i­da­tion tactics.”

And heads of 527s vehe­ment­ly deny they have bro­ken any laws.

We do not coor­di­nate with the Ker­ry cam­paign,” says Wes Boyd, pres­i­dent of the MoveOn​.org Vot­er Fund. These charges are base­less and irresponsible.”

This is not the first time Repub­li­cans have gone after 527s. Last Novem­ber, Repub­li­can Nation­al Com­mit­tee Chair­man Ed Gille­spie wrote let­ters to cam­paign finance watch­dogs urg­ing them to inves­ti­gate the groups. House Repub­li­cans also sought to lim­it the groups’ activ­i­ties by hold­ing House Admin­is­tra­tion Com­mit­tee hear­ings and threat­en­ing the use of subpoenas.

Those in the 527 com­mu­ni­ty demurred, how­ev­er, argu­ing that the GOP was mere­ly using its leg­isla­tive author­i­ty to shut down the oper­a­tion or, fail­ing that, again steal from the Demo­c­ra­t­ic playbook.

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