By Political Researcher
NBC News
updated 6/22/2007 5:07:24 PM ET 2007-06-22T21:07:24

One of the first 527 committees formed in support of a 2008 presidential candidate is Vote Hope, created by San Francisco attorney Steve Phillips, who is also the president and founder of the liberal PowerPAC.

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Vote Hope bills itself as a PAC in support of Sen. Barack Obama.

The most well-known 527 was 2004's "Swift Boat Veterans for Truth," the group that targeted John Kerry and his Vietnam military record.

A 527 is an independent political group not subject to federal campaign finance laws and therefore not held to donor limits. The "527" name simply refers to the federal tax code designation for these groups.

News of Vote Hope comes as Obama -- who has been critical of 527s -- traveled Friday to New Hampshire to deliver a speech on government reform.

“We didn’t know anything about the group,” Obama spokesman Bill Burton said of Vote Hope, which filed as a 527 on March 21st. “Obama thinks that candidates should be accountable for the campaigns they run, the donations they receive and the money they spend. We would strongly encourage anyone who supports Obama does so directly through the campaign and not an outside group.”

Obama is not the only campaign that stands to benefit from an online group pushing its cause.

Hillary Clinton, for example, has Hillaryis44.org, which posts news, polling data and negative information on Obama and Edwards. There is no listing of who runs or started the site, and if you click on “Contribute,” you are taken to Clinton’s official campaign site.

Other 527s related to 2008 candidates include one Newt Gingrich uses to pay for his political expenses, and one formed by Vietnam veterans who oppose John McCain.

The revelation of a 527 for Obama is yet another example in the 2008 presidential race of unsanctioned groups or stunts that campaigns are forced to address.

Already this year, Obama’s camp had to release statements distancing themselves from the "Hillary 1984" video which spoofed the famous Apple ad.

Then there was the music video YouTube phenomenon "Obama Girl."

Now a 527.

Vote Hope is also registered as a political action committee. Unlike 527s, PACs are regulated by the Federal Election Commission and have donor limits of $5,000 per person.

On its Web site, VoteHope.org, the group does not bill itself as a 527. It tells potential donors, “You may make contributions of up to $5,000 per calendar year to Vote Hope federal account,” and cites the FEC.

Phillips claims Vote Hope is going to keep the money it raises as a 527 separate from the money it raises as a PAC. Only the PAC money, he said, will be used in direct support of Obama for TV ads and get-out-the-vote efforts. On the other hand, the 527 money will be used to support local candidates "inspired by Obama" and for voter-registration efforts.

“We’re a group of grassroots activists, who are inspired by the Obama campaign and want to organize a large voter turnout,” said Phillips, who insists they have had no contact with the campaign. “We actually think that what we are doing is in the tradition of good government. We’re bringing in people who are disaffected and disenfranchised and getting them to vote.”

Domenico Montanaro covers politics for NBC News.

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