An effort by the chairman of the Republican Party to reach a formal non-interference agreement with conservative political action committees that support GOP candidates has failed.
Richard Richards, the chairman of the Republican National Committee, disclosed the effort earlier this week when he said he had asked the independent political action committees to stay out of campaigns when they are asked to by Republican candidates or state GOP chairmen.
But John T. (terry) Dolan, head of the National Conservative Political Action Committee (NCPAC), the largest and most powerful of the groups, said lawyers for the NCPAC concluded that such a formal agreement to abide by the wishes of Republican officials would violate federal election laws.
Under federal election laws, political action commitees and individuals may spend money for or against candidates, but only if they are "independent expenditures" and they do not consult or coordinate their efforts with the candidates or others who coordinate for them.
In 1979 and 1980, NCPAC made about $1.4 million in such expenditures, mostly in negative campaign messages criticizing liberal Democratic candidates.
Dolan said lawyers for the RNC and the Ncpac discussed Richards' proposal, but that no agreement was reached.
"Our conclusion is that we cannot have any kind of formal agreement from a legal point of view, nor would we want to from a political point of view," he said.
Lawyers for both sides concluded that an agreement between a political party and an independent expenditure group would violate federal election rules giving the indpendents the freedom to raise and spend money without limitations.
Republican candidates have clearly benefited by the independently financed attacks on their Democratic opponents. But in some races, there have been indications of voter backlash against the NCPAC's negative advertising and requests by GOP candidates that the group take its help elsewhere.
Richards said he has discussed the problems of independent expenditures with Dolan, who, he said, "agrees in principle that the [political] parties have a right to be worried by the independent expenditure groups."
Dolan said he agreed that the rise of groups such as the NCPAC is "potentially very damaging to the political system." But he said the solution to the problem is the repeal of election laws "that are designed only to protect incumbents," such as the elimination of limits on the amount of contributions that can be made directly to candidates.