House GOP Group Pays 2000 'Soft Money' Fine

The National Republican Congressional Committee (search) has agreed to pay a $280,000 civil fine for transferring big donations known as "soft money" to an outside group to finance ads in the 2000 election.

The Federal Election Commission (search) says the NRCC transferred $500,000 in soft money to the U.S. Family Network during the primary season in 1999 to fund political ads that the NRCC should have paid for with a mix of soft money — unlimited donations from companies and others — and hard money, limited contributions from individuals.

The U.S. Family Network (search) sent $300,000 to another group, Americans for Economic Growth (search). AEG then spent about $260,000 to run radio ads in fall 1999 accusing Democrats of planning to raid the Social Security fund and use it on other programs.

One ad aired in the districts of four Democratic House incumbents considered vulnerable in the 2000 election. The other ran in the districts of six Republican House incumbents and one Democratic incumbent the FEC said were "perceived to need shoring up to ally themselves with Republicans" on an upcoming House budget vote.

The NRCC knew the U.S. Family Network planned to transfer money from the party committee to another group to pay for anti-Democratic ads, the FEC found.

The House GOP committee argued it did nothing improper. Spokesman Carl Forti said the NRCC agreed to the fine because it was cheaper than going to court to fight it and the committee's leaders "wanted to put it behind us and move on."

The commission announced the outcome of the case Friday. The FEC inquiry was prompted by a complaint filed by the NRCC's rival, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

Under a law that took effect after the 2002 election, the national party committees are banned from spending soft money.