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Campaign finance reform in 2004

NBC's David Gregory reports on what today's U.S. Supreme Court decision on the campaign finance reform bill means for the upcoming 2004 Presidential race.
/ Source: NBC News

Today's Supreme Court ruling doesn't remove the place of money from campaigns.  In fact, many believe it will only help President Bush who has the built in advantage of the White House for fund raising.  Plus, the sky's the limit because he chose not to accept the restrictions that come with Federal matching funds for the campaign.

The biggest impact of campaign finance reform is already visible. The new law has accelerated the effort by candidates to collect hard money donations - actually individual donations directly to a candidate.

That's what President George W. Bush collects at fundraisers across the country and what Democratic candidate Howard Dean has raised so much of on the Internet.

The limit for hard money donations is now $2000 per person.

With soft or unregulated contributions now banned, the national political parties have shifted their tactics. They can collect up to $25,000 from individuals but that's a far cry from the big money days.

According to Democratic National Committee Chairman Terry McAuliffe, "Well, it's a lot more retail work.  I spend four or five hours on the phone.  We used to go out and get large checks - hundred-thousand dollar checks.  The most you can now get from an individual is $25,000."
"We need to raise enough hard money so that we hit our thresholds so that we can carry the nominee in the spring.  In the summer of 2004, the DNC's responsibility is to win the White House.  It is what I think about every day and now I can only do it with hard money," McAuliffe added.

Another major impact includes stricter regulation of special interest groups like MoveON.Org, which raises money to fund political TV ads.

During the 2000 campaign such ads were used by partisans on both sides to promote an agenda and a candidate.

Now, the law bans any advertisement that mentions a candidate's name within two months of the general election.

But observers say enforcement of the law will be the key, because special interests groups are expected to push the envelope when the campaign heats up.

"These groups are saying that they're purpose is really to take over from the party committees the type of issue ads the type of campaigning that parties use to do with soft money," said Larry Noble of the Center for Responsive Politics.  "Right now the game is going to the FEC to make sure the laws are enforced in such a way as to make sure these groups don't abuse the law," Noble added.

There is a lot of joy among reformers, but no one has any illusions. There's a lot of money in politics and its not going away.  In the end, this law may just shift it around.