A campaign-finance watchdog group accused a key Democratic Party committee Wednesday of exploiting the Sept. 11 terror attacks in order to circumvent Federal fund-raising regulations. 

Common Cause says the Democratic National Committee is trying to use the terror attacks to justify ducking through soft-money loopholes. 

"There are a lot of things that are more difficult in the wake of the September 11 attacks, and political fund-raising may well be one of them," Common Cause president Scott Harshbarger said in a statement Wednesday. "But for the Democrats to claim that terrorist attacks somehow justify widening the soft-money loophole is simply not credible." 

DNC spokeswoman Sue Walitsky called Common Cause's charge "utterly ridiculous." 

"Contrary to Common Cause's hysterically dishonest and deliberate misrepresentation, the DNC request does not increase one penny the amount of soft money that could be spent by the DNC," Walitsky said. "It simply asked for more time to raise and spend non-federal funds it is already authorized to spend." 

Common Cause's complaint stems from a rule over the use of "hard" and "soft" money. Federal Election Commission regulations say political parties can pay for some expenses —- like campaign advertisements — with unregulated "soft" money as long as they make payment within 60 days of the expenditure. Otherwise, the parties have to use "hard" money, which is federally regulated and much harder to come by. 

According to a copy of the request, the DNC asked the FEC to extend that 60-day limit to 120 days so it could have time to raise the soft money it needed to pay bills. The DNC argued that it was unable to raise the money because "in the aftermath of the events of Sept. 11, the DNC immediately suspended significant aspects of its fund-raising operations." 

As a result, it "will likely continue to prove extremely difficult for the DNC to raise funds of all kinds, in particular, non-federal funds, for the foreseeable future." 

Jeff Cronin, spokesman for Common Cause, said the DNC could afford to pay for its expenditures with hard money now, but would rather get an "emergency" dispensation to raise quick soft money. He called the request inappropriate and said it demonstrated problems with existing campaign-finance regulations. 

"So long as we have a system where there is hard money and soft money, parties are going to want to spend the big corporate checks more than the $50 or $100 dollar individual checks," Cronin said. 

The Republican National Committee was asked to co-sign the request, but officials there declined. 

Trent Duffy, a spokesman for the RNC National Headquarters, said the party refused to join the request, but stopped short of calling the DNC move inappropriate. 

"[RNC chairman Jim] Gilmore was asked to review the request and declined," said Duffy. "He made the determination that the existing rules and regulations regarding this activity were fair and should be followed." 

The FEC will likely review the request and make a decision at its next meeting Oct. 25.