More than a decade after Congress began struggling to control the flow of money into political campaigns, a House task force on elections was told yesterday that another gaping loophole has been torn in the fabric of campaign financing laws.
The latest vehicle for legally skirting the spending limits to carry big money into political campaigns are the so-called independent expenditure groups--the ideological cannons used by the New Right in 1980 to help elect President Reagan and defeat a flock of liberals in the Senate.
Spawned from a 1976 Supreme Court decision that gave them unlimited spending authority, the independent political action committees have undergone explosive growth and, in some cases, used muscular tactics that worry activists in both parties.
"They are accountable to no one . . . using big money for their extreme ideological ends," said New York lawyer Theodore C. Sorensen, a speech writer and adviser to President Kennedy. Sorensen yesterday outlined the Democrats' critique of independent groups that spent $10.6 million to elect Reagan and a paltry $27,000 on behalf of President Carter.
Such groups "lack the accountability and responsibility of political parties," complained Republican National Chairman Richard Richards, who has made no secret of his dislike for the aggressive tactics of such groups as the National Conservative Political Action Committee, run by activist John T. Dolan.
But the House Administation Committee task force on elections, chaired by Rep. Al Swift (D-Wash.), received widely divergent advice from Sorensen, Richards and others on how to deal with the powerful new force of independent committees.
Sorensen, delivering a Democratic Party report critical of independent expenditure groups, proposed that national parties receive direct taxpayer subsidies through the same kind of income tax check-off now used to finance presidential campaigns. This would help them compete with the "loophole committees," he said.
"The traditional concept of locally elected officials responsive to local constituencies is being swept away. In 1980, money raised in California to defeat Sen. Alan Cranston was used in South Dakota to defeat Sen. George McGovern. In 1982, funds raised to attack Sen. Edward M. Kennedy D-Mass are being spent to attack Congressman Dan Rostenkowski D-Ill. ," he charged.
Moreover, he said many conservative groups flout the legal requirement of independence. "Many of the right-wing committees openly meet at the White House and with the Republican National Committee," he said.
Richards rejected the idea of tighter controls on independent expenditure groups but called instead for a lifting of the "severe restrictions" on how much money the parties can provide congressional candidates. These limitations have forced people to turn away from the parties and toward the ideological groups, Richards said in a statement submitted to the task force..
Swift said Dolan was invited to testify but withdrew at the last minute.