WASHINGTON – A judge on Wednesday denied the Bush campaign's request that he order the Federal Election Commission (search) to act on complaints about outside groups spending millions on anti-Bush ads and get-out-the-vote activities.
U.S. District Judge James Robertson told attorneys for President Bush that he agreed the FEC had moved at a "glacial" pace in handling complaints but added, "That's the way Congress has set it up and apparently that's the way Congress likes it."
The Bush campaign wanted the judge to force the FEC to act on complaints dating back to March within 30 days. After that, the campaign would have been able to sue to block the private groups' activities if it didn't agree with the commission's action.
The judge said he was ruling from the bench rather than waiting to write a decision because — with Election Day nearing — he wanted the campaign to be able to appeal immediately.
"It's not over. We are going to pursue this," Bush campaign lawyer Tom Josefiak said.
"The president is committed to do something to regulate the 527s," Josefiak said, a reference to a tax code provision covering the groups. The campaign contends anti-Bush groups are illegally spending millions of dollars in unlimited donations in the presidential race.
FEC attorney Colleen Sealander argued that the campaign had no right to force the FEC to rule on the complaints and that the commission was taking a reasonable amount of time to investigate them.
The judge asked her to tell him what the FEC had done on the complaints so far, but she said the law barred her from telling him in open session.
The judge, an appointee of President Clinton, told her that if she answered his question under seal, "the press will say a secret report was given to a judge appointed by you-know-who, because that's how the press always reports it." The judge asked her what that would do for the public's confidence in the process, but Sealander replied that under the law all the FEC could say was that it had the complaints and had not yet resolved them.
Robertson said that ironically, it was an "impeccable decision" in an FEC case in the 1980s by Appellate Judge Kenneth Starr (search), "when, figuratively speaking, the shoe was on the other foot," that required him to let the FEC investigate at its own speed. In the 1990s, Starr served as an independent counsel and spent five years investigating Clinton.
The Bush campaign's case is one of two filed against the FEC over its failure to stop groups from spending millions of dollars in unlimited political donations in the presidential race.
Two House sponsors of the campaign finance law filed a lawsuit in federal court Tuesday seeking to force the FEC to crack down on such groups. The law, which took effect in November 2002, broadly banned the spending of so-called "soft money" to influence presidential and congressional races.