FEC to Court: Reject Bush Soft Money Bid

The Federal Election Commission (search) has asked a court to throw out a lawsuit by President Bush's campaign that seeks to force quick action on complaints against anti-Bush groups spending big donations in the presidential race.

In a court filing made public Friday, the commission told U.S. District Judge James Robertson the Bush campaign won't suffer irreparable harm if its March complaints to the FEC about "soft money" groups aren't resolved before the November election.

The campaign finance laws aren't meant to help candidates avoid "competitive harm," FEC lawyers wrote.

"The Act was designed to protect the public interest — both by maintaining the integrity of the electoral process, and by avoiding the corruption and the appearance of corruption of the government," they wrote. "It was not the purpose of the Act to protect a candidate from public criticism, or from the registration of voters who might support his or her opponent."

The Bush campaign sued the FEC in federal court in Washington last week, asking the judge to order the commission to rule on the campaign's complaints against various anti-Bush soft money groups within a month. If the campaign disagreed with the FEC's action, it could then ask the judge to block the groups' activities.

The campaign contends the groups are illegally spending tens of millions of dollars in the presidential race, violating a broad ban on the use of corporate, union and unlimited individual donations in federal elections. The groups say their activities are legal.

FEC lawyers told the judge that even though the campaign seems convinced its complaints "present irrefutable proof of illegal conduct, the issues they raise are complex and fact-intensive, and involve controversial and unsettled legal and constitutional questions."

The FEC, which includes three Republican and three Democratic commissioners, can take years to resolve complaints. At least 183 complaints are pending at the commission, including 73 filed before the Bush campaign complaints.

The judge plans a hearing in the case Wednesday.