WASHINGTON – A pro-Democratic group that opposes President Bush in its fund-raising solicitations is the target of a complaint by campaign finance watchdogs who argue the organization is spending illegally on its mailings.
America Coming Together (search) should be using limited "hard money" donations, not unlimited contributions known as soft money, to pay for the fund-raising letters, the three groups said in the complaint filed Tuesday with the Federal Election Commission (search).
The groups are Democracy 21, the Center for Responsive Politics and the Campaign Legal Center.
ACT has financed the mailings — possibly up to $1 million worth through March — with soft money, the groups say. Such unlimited donations can come from any source, including unions and corporations, but aren't supposed to be used for federal election activities.
"When Election Day is over, we will have defeated George W. Bush and elected progressive candidates all across the nation," ACT told prospective donors in one recent fund-raising letter. "The extraordinary effort we're undertaking is in response to the extraordinary damage Bush and his allies do, on a daily basis, to values we believe in and to people we care about."
The mailing also notes ACT's desire to defeat Republican members of Congress and GOP lawmakers at the state and local levels.
ACT spokesman Jim Jordan said the organization has done nothing improper: "It is, we believe, completely without merit," Jordan said of the complaint.
The FEC is unlikely to act before the November election; it often takes years for the commission to resolve complaints.
The watchdog groups contend that because no state and local candidates are named, and Bush, a federal candidate, is the only person on the ballot who is, such solicitations must be funded with hard money.
ACT "has illegally spent soft money on direct-mail public communications that attack and oppose President Bush," said Fred Wertheimer, head of Democracy 21.
ACT was created after the campaign finance law took effect in November 2002 barring the national Democratic and Republican parties from raising soft money. The group is focused on pro-Democratic get-out-the-vote activities in presidential battleground states, efforts the Democratic Party had used soft money to finance.
The complaint isn't the first against ACT. The Bush campaign and Republican National Committee filed one with the FEC in March accusing ACT and other anti-Bush groups of illegally coordinating their activities with Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry's campaign. The Kerry campaign and the groups say they've done nothing wrong.