The Democratic Party wants the federal Election Commission to waive some of the new campaign reform rules long enough for the party to retire its lingering debts.
Democrats say their request is only fair because the rules were not in effect when the party plunged into deep debt, but Republican Party Chairman Bill Brock called the request "morally outrageous."
"If we could have paid these debts in 1968, we would have," said Joel McCleary, treasurer of the Democratic National Committee. "but we are still laboring under these old debts, and all the restrictions on paying them off were imposed after we already were over our heads in debt."
The Democratic Party, in a petition filed last week, asked that new limits on individual and group contributions not apply for donations used to retire debts incurred before the new regulations were enacted.
The DNC has remaining debts of $2 million of that vintage, most of it obligations assumed by the party after the 1968 presidential campaigns of Hubert H. Humphrey and Robert F. Kennedy.
The Democrats have about $500,000 in additional debts not included in the petition to the FEC. Democrats concede these debts would be covered by rules in effect at the time they were incurred.
The party has had trouble retiring the old debt because its efforts have competed with Democratic candidates trying to finance current campaigns. The new limits compounded the difficulties by reducing the size of gifts for which the party interests were vying.
In a letter to the FEC signed by Ronald Eastman, the party's general counsel, the Democratics asked the commission for a ruling that these limits not apply to money raised to retire debts incurred before the ceilings were set.
Eastman specifically asked that individuals be permitted to give more than $20,000 a year and committees more than $15,000, provided all money about the limits is earmarked for retirement of the party's old debts.
The letter also asks that donations designed to retire the party's debts not count against the individual limit of $25,000.
GOP Chairman Brock said, "I see no reason why the Democrats should be allowed to accept fat-cat money. After all, that's what the post Watergate election reforms are all about."
The Republicans hope to raise more than $15 million for their national committee operations this year, most of in small amounts by direct mail.
The Democrats, meanwhile, are struggling toward a $6.6 million budget, about $1 million of which must go to the mandatory debt retirement regardless of what the FEC rules.