A federal judge on Wednesday denied a request to force the Federal Election Commission to act on complaints by President Bush’s campaign against anti-Bush groups spending millions of dollars on ads in the presidential race.
District Judge James Robertson told Bush’s attorneys that he agreed that the FEC had moved at a “glacial pace” in handling complaints, but he added, “That’s the way Congress has set it up and apparently that’s the way Congress likes it.”
The Bush campaign had wanted the judge to force the FEC to act on complaints dating back to March within 30 days. After that, the campaign would have been able to sue to block the private groups’ activities if it didn’t agree with the regulators’ actions.
The judge said he was ruling from the bench rather than waiting to write a decision because — with Election Day nearing — he wanted the campaign to be able to appeal immediately.
Bush campaign lawyer Tom Josefiak said, “It’s not over. We are going to pursue this.”
“The president is committed to do something to regulate the 527s,” Josefiak said, a reference to a tax code provision covering the groups.
FEC attorney Colleen Sealander argued that the campaign had no right to force the FEC to rule on the complaints and that the commission was taking a reasonable amount of time to investigate them.
The judge asked her to tell him what the FEC had done on the complaints so far, but she said she could not tell him in open session because of the law covering agency investigations.
The judge, an appointee of former President Clinton, told her that if she answered his question under seal “the press will say a secret report was given to a judge appointed by you-know-who, because that’s how the press always reports it.” The judge asked her what that would do for the public’s confidence in the process, but Sealander replied that under the law all the FEC could say was that it had the complaints and had not yet resolved them.
This case is one of two filed by the Bush campaign against the FEC over its failure to stop groups from spending millions of dollars in unlimited political donations in the presidential race.
Two House sponsors of the recent campaign finance law filed their own lawsuit in federal court on Tuesday seeking to force the FEC to crack down on such groups. A law that took effect in November 2002 broadly banned the spending of so-called soft money to influence presidential and congressional races.
Outside groups trying to deny Bush a second term have spent more than $60 million on advertising. That has far outstripped organizations sympathetic to the president, though much attention has been given to ads aired by the group Swift Boat Veterans for Truth challenging Democratic Sen. John Kerry’s Vietnam War record.