Fa­vored by 527s, Dems mum on re­form

The Washington Times Weekly - - National - By S.A. Miller

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.

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