WASHINGTON – Testing the nation's campaign finance law, two Republican congressmen and the son of a Senate Democratic leader are asking federal regulators for advice on how far they can go to raise money for others.
The request from Rory Reid, son of Senate Minority Whip Harry Reid, D-Nev., is drawing a strong response from campaign finance groups that say he shouldn't be allowed to raise large donations for the Nevada Democratic Party given his close ties to his father's re-election campaign.
Rory Reid, a Clark County commissioner, recently asked the Federal Election Commission if he could raise unlimited corporate and union "soft money" for the Nevada party while also raising more tightly regulated federal funds for his father's re-election.
A campaign finance law that took effect last November bars federal candidates and officeholders from raising soft money. That includes contributions from corporations and labor unions and unlimited checks from any source.
Reid said in a telephone interview that he doesn't have immediate plans to raise funds for the state party but wants to understand his options as his father faces re-election in 2004.
"This is a new law," Rory Reid said. "It seems pretty clear to me what it says, but before I determine what my plan is, I want to make sure I understand (the law) fully."
The campaign watchdog groups Common Cause, the Center for Responsive Politics and the Campaign Legal Center wrote the FEC this month saying Reid shouldn't be permitted to raise soft money. They contend his previous fund raising and his intention to help his father's re-election effort make him an agent of the senator's campaign.
The Campaign Legal Center told federal regulators that "the manifest desire of Congress was to cut the tie between federal officials and the solicitation and spending of unlimited funds in connection with elections."
The commission is considering Reid's request.
The FEC was expected Thursday to give its opinion on a request by Rep. Eric Cantor, R-Va., on whether Cantor can raise money for state and local candidates and if so, how and what kind of contributions.
Rep. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., also has a request for clarification pending with the commission. He wants to know what role he can play in helping raise money for an Arizona ballot initiative that would prohibit the use of taxpayer money in state campaigns.
Flake founded a group that wants to repeal an Arizona law it says is linked to Republican Sen. John McCain, a sponsor of the federal campaign finance law that bans soft money. Ballot initiative committees are not normally subject to federal fund-raising rules, but Common Cause told the FEC that this committee should be subject to the same regulations that apply to its founder because the Arizona congressman is so closely tied to the group.