Tags: GOP | Dems | Targeted | FEC | Complaint

GOP, Dems Targeted in FEC Complaint

Friday, 22 November 2002 12:00 AM

The complaint alleges that a new political organization launched by the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) dubbed the Leadership Forum "constitutes an illegal scheme to raise and spend soft money in violation of the new law."

As for the Democrats, the complaint alleges that the Democratic National Committee (DNC) has similarly set up a new group to circumvent campaign finance laws.

According to the complaint, state party officials established the new Democratic State Party Organization to "keep soft money flowing."

The complaint targets the NRCC, as well as the Leadership Forum and its president and vice president, Susan Hirschmann and former Rep. Bill Paxon, respectively.

On the Democratic side, the complaint names the DSPO and its president, Joseph Carmichael, the DNC and its chairman, Terry McAuliffe.

"When it comes to political money, the attitude in Washington of some of our elected representatives and the political parties is that there is no sheriff, there is no judge and, therefore, there is no need to comply with the nation's campaign finance laws," said Fred Wertheimer, president of Democracy 21, one of the groups that filed the complaint.

"We cannot allow the political parties to undermine the ban on soft money by shifting the party soft money operations to parallel shadow entities under the control of party operatives," said Don Simon, acting president of Common Cause, which is also a party to the complaint.

"And we can't allow the FEC to stand by idly while schemes to violate the law multiply, until we are again...left with more loophole than law," said Simon.

Center for Responsive Politics executive director Larry Noble criticized the FEC's past record of enforcement but insisted that the agency can't use scarce resources as an excuse for not enforcing the new Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act (BCRA).

"The agency must put partisan and party interests aside, decide that enforcing the new law is of the highest priority and invest the necessary resources to move this case to a quick and meaningful resolution," said Noble.

But John Eastman of Chapman University School of Law suspects the FEC won't take action on the complaint until lawsuits challenging the constitutionality of the law itself are resolved.

"The FEC would be on pretty thin ice enforcing the law in the meantime," said Eastman, especially since some of the commissioners themselves believe the law is unconstitutional.

"It's a safe bet that some provisions of the BCRA will be struck down" on First Amendment/free speech grounds, he predicted.

DNC spokesperson Maria Cardona called the complaint "completely ridiculous."

"They're basing the complaint on third-hand account of news articles that aren't even true," she said, referring to the complaint's reference to allegedly incriminating remarks appearing in Washington Post and New York Times news articles. "The DNC has nothing to do with these groups."

According to Cardona, state party chairs set up the DSPO separate of the DNC. They did, however, inform McAuliffe about their efforts and consult the DNC general counsel Joe Sandler for advice on how to set up the organization, she said.

The DNC plans to respond to allegations in the complaint publicly and formally in 15 days.

The complaint alleges that the DSPO is "an entity 'established' and/or 'financed'" by DNC officials and that the DSPO is a self-described state party organization, and is prohibited from spending soft money on get-out-the-vote and party registration efforts.

The complaint also cites the Washington Post, New York Times and Roll Call reports on the Leadership Forum as evidence of Republican wrongdoing.

A Nov. 2, 2002 New York Times story, for example, quoted an anonymous GOP operative as describing the LF as the "House go-to operation" for future federal elections.

NRCC general counsel Don McGahn denied that his group is legally affiliated with the Leadership Forum.

While the NRCC did give money to the Leadership Forum, "simply giving money is somehow now a per se affiliation, which simply isn't the rule," said McGahn. The NRCC can give money to whoever it chooses, he said; and once it's in someone else's hands, it's their business what they do with it.

"Once the FEC serves us, we'll deal with it in due course," said McGahn, who dismissed the complaint as "not a serious legal argument."

"They exaggerate on the law and get the facts wrong, to the extent they have any facts at all," said McGahn.


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The complaint alleges that a new political organization launched by the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) dubbed the Leadership Forum "constitutes an illegal scheme to raise and spend soft money in violation of the new law." As for the Democrats, the...
Friday, 22 November 2002 12:00 AM
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