updated 6/22/2004 1:24:44 PM ET 2004-06-22T17:24:44

A pro-Democratic group that criticizes President Bush in its fund-raising letters is breaking the law in the types of contributions it uses to finance the mailings, campaign finance watchdog groups said in a complaint.

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The three groups said America Coming Together should be using limited “hard money” donations, not unlimited contributions, to pay for the solicitations. The groups — Democracy 21, the Center for Responsive Politics and the Campaign Legal Center — planned to file the complaint on Tuesday with the Federal Election Commission.

ACT has financed the mailings — possibly up to $1 million worth through March — with soft money, the groups say. Such unlimited donations can come from any source, including unions and corporations, but aren’t supposed to be used for federal election activities.

“When Election Day is over, we will have defeated George W. Bush and elected progressive candidates all across the nation,” ACT told prospective donors in one recent fund-raising letter. “The extraordinary effort we’re undertaking is in response to the extraordinary damage Bush and his allies do, on a daily basis, to values we believe in and to people we care about.”

The mailing also notes ACT’s desire to defeat Republican members of Congress and GOP lawmakers at the state and local levels.

The commission is unlikely to act on the complaint before Election Day; the FEC often takes years to resolve complaints.

ACT spokesman Jim Jordan said the organization has done nothing improper: “It is, we believe, completely without merit,” Jordan said of the complaint.

The watchdog groups contend that because no state and local candidates are named, and Bush, a federal candidate, is the only person on the ballot who is, such solicitations must be funded with the harder-to-raise hard money.

ACT was formed after the campaign finance law barring the national Democratic and Republican parties from raising soft money took effect in November 2002. It is focused on pro-Democratic get-out-the-vote activities in presidential battleground states, efforts the Democratic Party had used soft money to finance.

ACT is allowed to cover some costs using a mix of hard and soft money. The group paid for roughly 98 percent of its expenses with soft money through March and should be using more hard money, the complaint says.

The complaint isn’t the first against ACT. The Bush campaign and Republican National Committee filed one with the FEC in March accusing ACT and other anti-Bush groups of illegally coordinating their activities with Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry’s campaign. The Kerry campaign and the groups say they’ve done nothing wrong.

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