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Campaign-finance law sponsors to challenge FEC rules

By The Associated Press

06.26.02

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WASHINGTON — Sponsors of the new campaign-finance law said today they would pursue court and congressional action to overturn regulators' plan to enforce the legislation, arguing it undermines Congress' intent to reduce the role of big money in politics.

The strategy targeting the Federal Election Commission's approach to the law came as the Republican Party, trying to build its case against the new restrictions, sought inside information on its rivals' fund raising and political ads.

The law's sponsors contend regulations the FEC adopted last week will open broad loopholes in the law. They said they will ask a court to overturn the FEC regulations and also will ask Congress to reject them.

They also plan to introduce legislation to replace the FEC, made up of three Democrats and three Republicans appointed by the president, with a new agency.

"The commission has basically drawn a road map for evasion of the law, and this cannot be allowed to happen," said Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Wis., appearing with co-sponsors Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Reps. Martin Meehan, D-Mass., and Christopher Shays, R-Conn.

Shays called on the commissioners to resign immediately, saying they have failed to carry out Congress' intent and energetically enforce the law.

The law, set to take effect after the November election, will impose broad new campaign-finance restrictions. Those include a ban on national party committees' raising of unlimited "soft-money" contributions from unions, corporations and others that often reach into six figures. State and local parties could still raise soft money if permitted by state law.

The Republican National Committee is among several groups suing to try to overturn the law, claiming it is unconstitutional.

To build its case, the RNC has issued subpoenas and deposition requests seeking information from some Democratic-leaning groups that will be largely unaffected by the restrictions.

For example, it is asking the New Democrat Network for details on its campaign ads, how and when it solicits contributions, its top donors and communication between the political action committee and federal officeholders, including any lobbying. It also asks the group whether it believes any of its activities are "corrupt or appear to corrupt" any federal officeholder or candidate and if so, why.

Sen. Joseph Lieberman, D-Conn., the 2000 Democratic vice presidential nominee, helped found the group five years ago to promote the ideas of centrist, pro-business Democrats. Lieberman's office declined comment on the subpoena.

Other organizations targeted by RNC subpoenas and deposition requests issued June 21 are the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, the National Treasury Employees Union and the Service Employees International Union.

An RNC official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the committee has subpoenaed groups across the political spectrum that conduct political activities similar to what the RNC would be prohibited from doing under the new law.

Meanwhile, at least some Democratic and Republican party committees are negotiating how they will respond to subpoenas issued to them by those defending the new law, including its congressional sponsors, the FEC and the Justice Department.

Those information requests, issued in early June, seek fund-raising information to back up the sponsors' contention that special interests are having undue influence on federal politicians by contributing large soft-money checks.

A Democratic official said party committees were negotiating over several issues, including a possible protective order that would shield documents from public release that the parties consider to contain proprietary fund-raising information. The National Republican Congressional Committee is also involved in those talks, said committee attorney Don McGahn.

RNC spokesman Jim Dyke said his committee is working to comply with the request and is not part of discussions.

The government is also the target of information requests.

Attorney General John Ashcroft's office has objected to a request for depositions and documents from the National Rifle Association, which opposes the new law's political ad restrictions. The Justice Department contends much of the request is overly broad and vague or seeks confidential information.

Update

Law's sponsors claim FEC opened 'loopholes' in soft-money ban
Reps. Christopher Shays, R-Conn., and Marty Meehan, D-Mass., file federal lawsuit, saying commissioners misinterpreted law in drafting rules.  10.09.02

Previous

FEC OKs narrow test for soft-money ban
Critics say rule opens major loophole, but commissioner says he proposed such a strict litmus test to protect free-speech rights.  06.20.02

Related

GOP, state parties join fight against campaign-finance law
Republican National Committee's lawsuit argues soft-money ban unfairly imposes greater restrictions on political parties' speech than that of other groups.  05.08.02

Feingold: Clinton, others trying to find ways around soft-money ban
'It was a troubling display for a party that claims to be for trying to clean up the system,' campaign-finance law author says of Senate Democrats' closed-door meeting.  07.22.02

FEC fights questioning from GOP
Commission asks federal court to free it from having to answer questions in lawsuit challenging new campaign-finance law.  09.05.02

Supporters mull next move in campaign-finance fight
Political science professor says battle over election funding will never be over, even if new law survives court challenges.  04.09.02

FEC attorneys question campaign law's ad rules
In commission's first proposal for implementing ad restrictions, lawyers say ban may go further than 1986 Supreme Court ruling allows.  07.31.02

Unlikely allies ready to challenge campaign-finance legislation
Analysis From Floyd Abrams to Kenneth Starr to James Bopp, attorneys say measure is vulnerable to First Amendment attack.  03.26.02

Campaign-finance law on fast track to Neverland
By Ken Paulson Drafters of McCain-Feingold must have had a head full of pixie dust when they restricted certain pre-election broadcast ads.  04.21.02

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