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The Collective
Friday, August 20, 2004
By Dr. Steven Taylor

‘Soft Money’ Groups Face New Ground Rules

Interest groups spending big donations on ads and voter outreach in the presidential race will face new limits after the fall election under rules approved by federal regulators. Campaign watchdogs criticized them as too little, too late.

The Federal Election Commission (news - web sites) rules, approved 4-2 Thursday, will require nonparty groups that raise more than $1,000 to take only limited donations from individuals if they tell donors the money will be used to promote or oppose a particular presidential or congressional candidate. They will also have to disclose their financing and spending to the FEC.

The commission also placed new spending restrictions on groups that collect both “soft money” — corporate, union and unlimited donations — and “hard money,” limited donations from individuals.

The commission said the groups will have to use hard money, which is more difficult to raise, to cover at least half the cost of their overhead, nonpartisan voter drives and ads, phone banks and mailings that refer to a federal candidate.

Commissioners who supported the changes argued they would sweep in many groups now criticized for spending soft money on ads and voter drives despite a broad ban on the use of the big donations in federal elections.

“I think we have done something huge,” said Commissioner Ellen Weintraub, a Democrat. “It isn’t tinkering. It’s a big deal.”

Democratic Commissioner Scott Thomas, who voted against the rules and wanted more restrictions, said he feared the regulations would be easy to evade. Groups would just have to alter the phrasing of their fund-raising solicitations to avoid falling under the FEC’s oversight, he said, expressing frustration that the commission didn’t go further.

Didn’t the experience with McCain-Feingold teach these people anything? You can’t stop the money. To quote Scotty in Star Trek III: “The more they overthink the plumbing, the easier it is to stop up the drain.” And, as I have noted before, as long as the federal government is going to collect and spend over 20% of the GDP, people are going to care who gets elected, and will seek to influence who wins office.

And I’m sorry, but speech does require money in an electronic age, so to curtail money is to curtail speech. It is as simple as that.

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