New Conduit for Money Politics

To defeat President Bush in the fall elections, a number of well-heeled liberal organizations and wealthy Democrats are pouring millions of dollars into special nonprofit groups that will campaign separately from the Democratic Party.

This flow of political money - some $300 million is expected to be pumped into these shadow organizations in this election cycle - is the latest attempt to get around the federal laws on campaign finance. It only enhances public cynicism that big money still influences Washington.

On Thursday, the Federal Election Commission plans to discuss possibly regulating these groups (known as 527s, for their tax status), by broadening its interpretation of the 2002 Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act.

That act curbed the flow of "soft money" - unlimited donations from corporations, unions, and wealthy individuals - to political parties. Now such money is finding its way into groups like the Center for American Progress and the Partnership for America's Families, which plan TV ads and get-out-the-vote drives.

On the GOP side, similar groups have formed, but not as rapidly or with as much money, because Republicans have a distinct advantage under the new law in their proven ability to funnel small contributions directly to candidates. The new law raised the limits on this so-called "hard money."

One example of the new form of money-politics is the $10 million that billionaire George Soros pledged last year to America Coming Together (it's already received $5 million from Mr. Soros), a voter mobilization group. Or the $5 million that Soros pledged to the liberal Internet group for a television ad campaign. To his credit, Soros has made his agenda quite clear - he wants a president who will reflect his views, and that's not Mr. Bush. And most of the groups to whom he has parceled out money must publicly disclose their cash intake and outflow.

If the FEC can find a legal way to close the 527 loophole, it will help reduce the ability of a few to influence the outcome of elections.

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