Favored by 527s, Dems mum on reform
The Democratic majority in Congress has pursued a reform agenda that so far has overlooked the campaign-finance loophole allowing soft money to flood socalled 527 organizations, loosely regulated political groups, most of which support liberal candidates.
Top Democrats — including Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California — once denounced soft money’s influence on American politics, but they have backed off since taking over Congress this year.
Since the 2002 Bipar tisan Campaign Finance Reform Act prohibited national political parties from accepting or spending soft money — unregulated dollars not given directly to candidates — the 527 groups emerged as the chief vehicle for softmoney campaigning.
Democrats lead the pack in fundraising through 527s, named for the section of the Internal Revenue Service code that permits groups to collect contributions that are not tax deductible without disclosing donors or expenditures.
In the 2004 election cycle, Democratic 527s collected more than twice as much, $278 million, compared with $104 million for their Republican counterparts, according to IRS records compiled by the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics.
The fundraising total for Democrats is even higher when counting contributions to organizations that promote liberal causes, such as pro-choice, environmental and labor union groups.
The center’s data showed that in the 2006 election cycle, eight of the top 10 donors to 527 gave to liberal groups, as did seven of the top 10 donors in the 2004 election cycle.
The rise of these groups has helped boost Democrats to fundraising parity with Republi- cans for the first time in modern campaigning. The influence can be seen in TV and radio ads that do not endorse a particular candidate but often attack a rival politician.
For example, the liberal 527 group Media Fund paid for TV ads in the 2004 cycle that blasted President Bush for sending American jobs to other countries and for spending billions of dollars on the Iraq war while neglecting schools and health care.
The conservative 527 group Swift Boat Veterans for Truth aired ads that same year attacking Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry’s military record in the Vietnam War.
In 2004, the Media Fund raised more than $59 million and Swift Boat Veterans collected about $17 million, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
Democratic lawmakers often have criticized big-money donations in politics. In 2005, Mr. Reid accused the Republican majority of weakening a bill that he called “an opportunity to advance real reform” of 527 groups and said Republicans were trying to “put more money into our political system.”
Mr. Reid’s office now voices general support for campaign-finance changes and directs questions about regulating 527s to Sen. Dianne Feinstein, the California Democrat who runs the Rules Committee.
Mrs. Feinstein said she would get around to it. “It’s never too late,” she said. “You have to do this step by step,”
Mrs. Pelosi says the House has more pressing business than reining in 527 groups.
“Right now, we are focused on this lobbying-reform package,” said Pelosi spokesman Drew Hammill, adding that lobbying and ethics rules to stem Washington corruption are what voters asked for in the November elections.
“We made specific promises on these areas, and we continue to deliver results,” he said.
Sean Lengell contributed to this article.