Campaign Watchdogs File Complaint Against 527s

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Campaign finance watchdog groups asked federal election officials Thursday to stop three new partisan groups from using corporate and union money in the presidential and congressional elections.

They filed a complaint with the Federal Election Commission (search) contending two Democratic-leaning groups -- America Coming Together (search) and the Media Fund (search) -- and a Republican group, The Leadership Forum (search), are attempting to make sure the big donations the nation's new campaign finance law bans continue finding their way into federal elections.

America Coming Together and the Media Fund have said they are dedicated to helping win election of a Democratic president, while The Leadership Forum plans to help Republican congressional candidates, the complaint says. All three groups have said many times they believe their activities are legal.

"We are filing this complaint because we do not want to see history repeat itself," the three watchdog organizations, the Center for Responsive Politics (search), Democracy 21 (search) and the Campaign Legal Center (search), said in a joint statement. "We do not want to see the Federal Election Commission again license the injection of massive amounts of soft money (search) into federal campaigns."

They believe groups such as the three targeted in the complaint should be barred from collecting unlimited contributions or corporate or labor money, and should have to file detailed reports to the FEC about their fund raising and spending as political action committees must.

Such groups now file less detailed reports to the Internal Revenue Service.

The new campaign law, upheld last month by the Supreme Court, bars national party committees from raising soft money -- corporate, union and unlimited contributions -- and broadly bans the use of such donations for federal election activity.

James Jordan, a spokesman for America Coming Together and the Media Fund, said the groups were still reviewing the complaint but believe their fund raising and spending are legal.

"We want a Democratic president, but we want to elect Democrats up and down the ticket, on the federal, state and local level, and we most importantly want to affect the public policies of this country," Jordan said.

America Coming Together is run by Ellen Malcolm, head of EMILY's List (search), which is dedicated to helping elect Democratic women who support abortion rights. The Media Fund is headed by Harold Ickes (search), a former White House deputy chief of staff to President Clinton.

Multibillionaire financier George Soros (search) has pledged millions of dollars to both organizations. ACT plans to focus on get-out-the-vote activities, while the Media Fund intends to run ads against President Bush and promote the Democratic presidential nominee.

The Leadership Forum's leader, Susan Hirschmann, former chief of staff to House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Texas, said her group was complying with the law and won't focus on presidential or congressional races.

The complaint is one of three developments this week involving partisan soft-money groups.

The Republican National Committee urged the FEC to block partisan groups from using soft money in get-out-the-vote drives in federal elections.

House Administration Committee Chairman Robert Ney, R-Ohio, sent a letter to the leaders of five Democratic groups, including ACT, giving them one more chance to agree to testify before his committee about their activities before he decides whether to subpoena them. The groups so far have refused to appear; two GOP groups including The Leadership Forum have agreed to testify.