Coffers by Any Other Name

Lawyers for the two main political parties have been working in overdrive since this year's passage of a law eliminating "soft money" from election campaigns.

And indeed, the Bipartisan Campaign Finance Reform Act (BCRA) does have potential loopholes, such as a whopper that would let huge amounts of money flow through state political parties that often have sloppy recordkeeping.

This new funnel for special interests only fuels the expectation that big checks will continue to buy influence in government matters.

In 2000, Democratic and Republican state party committees took in $570 million. Nearly half that money consisted of "soft money" transfers from national party organizations. The BCRA now prohibits such transfers. But the politicized Federal Election Commission (FEC) already has come up with BCRA-bending rules. For instance, one rule will let members of Congress raise money for state parties. That clearly violates a key BCRA provision which prohibits federal candidates or officeholders from soliciting soft money. The FEC should reconsider its stance.

Fortunately, a number of states have put limits or outright bans on big contributions from individuals, unions, and corporations – the chief soft-money culprits. Oregon, for example, has such a law. More states will need to follow its lead in order to stem this tide.

Another problem beyond this loophole is how the money is spent. Under current law, state soft money is supposed to be used for "party-building" initiatives such as voter registration drives. But more and more it has been used to help fund controversial "issue ads," some sneakily disguised to attack the opposition.

Making matters worse, special interest groups producing these ads are flooding voter mailboxes and television time this election season.

States must strengthen and enforce their campaign-finance laws, and federal reformers should mobilize to close these egregious back channels for campaign cash.

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