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.