By Matthew Mosk
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, February 2, 2007
The Federal Election Commission said yesterday that it will police "527" groups, political organizations that largely operated outside the new campaign finance limits during the 2004 presidential election, by looking at how the groups word their appeals for contributions, how they describe themselves, and how they spend their money.
If the groups make clear that they are advocating for or against a specific candidate, the FEC would regulate them.
"We're providing clear guidance," said FEC Chairman Robert D. Lenhard. "This makes it clear that the existing rules will be enforced."
The FEC filed the 44-page explanation of its approach in U.S. District Court yesterday in response to a lawsuit challenging the agency's effectiveness in regulating the independent groups.
Some of the groups, which are called 527s because of their designation in the tax code, raised and spent large sums of money to pay for nuanced political ads that appeared to be intended to skirt the new federal rules.
The objective of the lawsuit, filed in 2004, "was to get the FEC to issue regulations to make clear to 527 groups when they would be required to register and report as political committees" and, as a result, be limited to raising much smaller sums from individual donors, said Fred Wertheimer, an advocate of campaign finance reform who is working on the case.
The FEC said that it will continue to resist issuing specific regulations. It noted that recent fines imposed on 527 groups such as MoveOn.org and Swift Boat Veterans for Truth made clear that the agency will not tolerate 527 organizations engaging in campaign activity aimed at promoting or tearing down a presidential candidate.
Wertheimer and representatives of the Campaign Legal Center, who have been challenging the FEC on its approach, declined to react to the court filing yesterday, but said that they will be back in federal court next week to schedule a formal response.