Light on Campaign Shadows

Before a campaign-finance reform law took effect Nov. 6, so-called soft money - from unions, corporations, individuals - was king of the coffers for the two main political parties.

But don't declare a dethroning yet.

Opponents are challenging the federal ban on soft money in the courts and in setting up groups that may be stealthily tied to the parties but legally able to collect money to pay for political advertising.

Two of these new shadowy groups are the Democratic State Party Organization, and the Leadership Forum, which was set up by Republicans. Campaign-finance reformers have asked the Federal Election Commission (FEC), which sets rules under the new law, to investigate whether the new entities are tied enough to the parties to be breaking the law.

The FEC, however, is a politicized regulatory body, with its six-member board divided between Republican and Democratic appointees. Its knitting needles are working overtime to implement the new law, and it's already dropped a few stitches in setting down rules.

But the request to probe these new soft-money funnels gives the FEC an opportunity to reaffirm its purpose of keeping elections clean of money influence.

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