The Republican National Committee wants federal election officials to block partisan interest groups from spending big corporate, union and personal donations on get-out-the-vote drives in the presidential race.
The RNC was sending a letter Tuesday to the Federal Election Commission urging it to reject a request by a Republican-leaning group for approval of its plan to spend such “soft money” on voter drives to help re-elect President Bush.
The nation’s new campaign finance law, upheld last month by the Supreme Court, bars national party committees like the RNC from raising soft money for any purpose. It also includes a broad ban on the use of corporate, union and unlimited donations for federal election activity.
Several Democratic-leaning interest groups recently have sprung up to collect millions of dollars in soft money that their party can no longer raise, and many say their top priority is defeating President Bush. To counter those efforts, a group of Republicans is starting “Americans for a Better Country,” and is asking the FEC whether it can use soft money for a range of partisan activities in the presidential race.
The RNC contends corporations and labor unions cannot spend treasury money on partisan get-out-the-vote efforts aimed at the public, whether they do it on their own or donate to outside groups carrying out such activities. The Republican committee says it also appears to be “legally problematic” for unlimited individual money to be used on partisan voter drives.
Letter to FEC attorney
In a letter to Lawrence Norton, the election commission’s general counsel, RNC attorney Charles Spies said that while the Republican committee is sympathetic to Americans for a Better Country’s desire to re-elect Bush and maintain GOP leadership in Washington, it nonetheless was urging the commission to “carefully consider the implications” of ABC’s request.
The RNC asked Democratic National Committee Chairman Terry McAuliffe on Monday to join in signing the letter, and planned to wait until Tuesday afternoon for his response before sending its letter to the commission.
McAuliffe sent RNC Chairman Ed Gillespie a response letter Monday making his own request. He asked Gillespie to urge the FEC to force various Republican-leaning groups to identify their donors and to join him in calling for a commission investigation examining whether the Bush campaign was coordinating activities with groups run by a conservative activist. That would help “create an open and fair system,” he wrote.
James Jordan, a spokesman for three of the Democratic soft-money groups, America Coming Together, the Media Fund and America Votes, said they have done nothing inappropriate.
“We firmly believe that all of our fund raising and spending practices are perfectly legal and appropriate, and have been so advised by counsel,” Jordan said.
The FEC is expected to issue its decision on Americans for a Better Country’s request next month.
Watchdog groups ask for ruling
Campaign finance watchdog groups including the Center for Responsive Politics, Democracy 21 and The Campaign Legal Center have asked the FEC to tell the Republican group it would be illegal for it to use corporate and union money for partisan get-out-the-vote efforts, noting that such a decision would also curtail the activities of many of the new anti-Bush groups.
The watchdog organizations said Monday they plan to pursue legal action against several of the soft money groups. Their top options include filing complaints with the FEC, which enforces federal campaign finance laws, or with the Internal Revenue Service, which oversees tax-exempt political groups.
The RNC was among several political players unsuccessfully suing to try to overturn the soft money ban, arguing it is unconstitutional.