Federal officials have dismissed a complaint accusing party leaders and several partisan interest groups of conspiring to evade a ban on corporate and union election contributions.

It is the second time the Federal Election Commission (search) has rejected allegations that interest groups were formed by party leaders to continue collecting the big checks after a law barred the national party committees from collecting such "soft money" (search) themselves. The law, which took effect in November 2002, also broadly bans the use of soft money in federal elections.

In a vote taken earlier this month and announced Wednesday, the FEC decided there was no reason to believe the law was broken. It voted 5-1 to dismiss the matter, with only Republican Commissioner Michael Toner opposing the move.

Those named in the inquiry included the Democratic Issues Agenda (search), Americans for a Republican Majority (search), the Democratic Senate Majority Fund (search), the PAC for a Democratic House (search), and House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Texas, among others.

They were originally part of a larger complaint brought by four watchdog groups alleging efforts by Democratic and Republican leaders to skirt the law by creating soft money organizations that critics call "shadow groups." The FEC dismissed much of that complaint last year and separately reviewed the allegations it most recently rejected.

The commission decision comes as it considers whether to impose new limits on political groups that collect soft money.

It decided last week that non-party political groups that register with the FEC can use only limited individual contributions known as hard money for ads, get-out-the-vote drives or other activities that promote, support, attack or oppose only federal candidates. If a state or local candidate or the general party ticket also is mentioned, they can use a mix of hard and soft money.

The commission plans next week to start considering broader questions involving soft money groups, including whether new limits should apply to organizations that do not register with the commission but are involved in elections.