washingtonpost.com  > Print Edition > Nation and Politics


Thursday, April 21, 2005; Page A05

'Soft Money' Groups Split House, Senate

The House and Senate appear headed in different directions on dealing with the influence of "soft money" groups such as the Republican-leaning Swift Boat Veterans for Truth and Democratic-aligned MoveOn.org that emerged in last year's presidential election.

A House committee chairman yesterday voiced support for a bill that would restore to the political parties some of the financial muscle lawmakers took away in the 2002 campaign finance law. His Senate counterpart would rather restrict what the outside groups can do.

The divergent strategies add up to general dissatisfaction with the way the 2002 campaign finance law has -- or has not -- worked. All agree that the 2002 Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act elevated the election-cycle influence of organizations that operate under Section 527 of the tax code -- nonparty political groups -- by leaving their activities less regulated than those of political parties.

House Administration Committee Chairman Robert W. Ney (R-Ohio) said the 2002 law led to "an increase in negative, scorched-earth politics" by empowering groups that attack candidates while muzzling political parties that try to respond.

Pioneer Says Space Tourism Is for Everyone

Aviation pioneer Burt Rutan, whose SpaceShipOne flew to the atmosphere's edge last year, said the space tourism business could open cosmic travel to those outside the billionaires' club.

In testimony to a congressional hearing on future markets for commercial spaceflight, Rutan noted, "The suborbital space tourist industry has been criticized by some as . . . just joy rides for billionaires . . . just for fun. I'm not at all embarrassed that we're opening up a new industry -- a likely multibillion-dollar industry -- that's focused only on fun."

Citing the model of the early days of airplanes, when he said safety increased by a factor of six in its first five years without an accompanying leap in technology, he said safety problems could be overcome as more spaceships take to the sky.

Hastert PAC Pays Bill For 2003 Fundraiser

A political action committee for House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) only recently paid for a fundraising lunch that took place nearly two years ago at a lobbyist's restaurant, a Hastert spokesman said.

The June 3, 2003, event was at Signatures, an upscale restaurant partly owned by lawyer-lobbyist Jack Abramoff, who is being investigated by a grand jury and two Senate committees over $80 million he charged several Indian tribes for representing their casino interests.

The bill for the 2003 Hastert event went unpaid until this month, around the time BusinessWeek Online began asking questions about the event, the news site reported last week.

The fundraising expense has been filed with the Federal Election Commission, Hastert spokesman Ron Bonjean said.

Fundraising costs in excess of $200 must be filed with the FEC.

Sen. David Vitter (R-La.) said his campaign also neglected to pay for a fundraiser at Signatures, this one hosted by Abramoff in September 2003.

Vitter said he meant to pay for the event, but the restaurant mistakenly never charged him for the $1,500 tab.

Allard Urges Deputizing Citizens to Patrol Border

A Republican senator said the government should consider deputizing private citizens, like the Minuteman Patrol in Arizona, to help secure U.S. borders.

Sen. Wayne Allard (Colo.) said the U.S. Border Patrol also should look to local law enforcement and state officials for help along the most porous parts of the U.S.-Mexico line.

"I wonder sometimes if maybe we're not looking too much to a federal solution," Allard told Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff during a Senate Appropriations Committee hearing.

Hundreds of civilian volunteers this month are monitoring a 23-mile stretch of the Arizona border. The volunteers, some of whom are armed, alert authorities when they spot people illegally crossing the border. The volunteers are not allowed to detain anyone.

Immigration advocates and border patrol officials have raised concerns about the volunteers.

-- From News Services

© 2005 The Washington Post Company