Minor political parties such as the Marxist and Reform parties cannot pool their presidential votes to qualify for federal campaign money, election regulators say.

The Federal Election Commission denied a request by Lenora Fulani of New York, a self-described Marxist, and James Mangia of Los Angeles, who headed the Reform Party faction that challenged presidential nominee Pat Buchanan in 2000.

Both are considering runs for the presidency in 2004. They told the FEC their decisions would be based in part on whether a coalition running one or more candidates that year could combine their vote to get the 5 percent needed to gain federal money for presidential campaigns and nominating conventions.

The parties would have split the money in 2008 according to their share of the 2004 vote.

"I think it would have been a tremendous and significant boost for the third-party movement and independent candidates," Mangia said.

The commission rejected the request Wednesday on a 5-0 vote.

In its written opinion, the FEC quoted a 1976 court ruling that said while federal campaign finance law was designed to treat third parties fairly, Congress was not interested in "funding hopeless candidates with large sums of public money."

Mangia said he and other proponents of the request will consider further action. That could include fighting the decision in court or seeking federal legislation to force a change.

Reform Party founder Ross Perot won enough of the presidential vote in 1996 to receive federal financing for his party's 2000 run. Buchanan, the last Reform presidential nominee, did not.

Mangia, executive director of the St. John's Well Child Center, a network of free medical and dental clinics for children, said he has not decided whether he will seek the Reform Party nomination in 2004.

Also Wednesday, the commission ruled that a Maryland lobbyist can hold fund-raisers for a state legislator running for Congress, even though Maryland law bars lobbyists from soliciting campaign money for members of the Legislature.

The FEC said federal campaign finance law, which allows lobbyists to hold fund-raisers for congressional candidates, pre-empts the state's law.

Eric Gally, a lobbyist for Mothers Against Drunk Driving, had asked the FEC to step in. He wants to raise money for state Sen. Christopher Van Hollen Jr., a Democrat in suburban Washington's Montgomery County, running for Congress.

The FEC's 4-1 vote was meant only to address the Maryland request and does not automatically affect campaign finance laws in other states.

Still, Commissioner Karl Sandstrom said during the FEC's discussion of the proposal last week that Congress had an interest in a uniform law, so congressional candidates wouldn't be "tripping up against state laws" when they raised money across the country.