The FEC's "Soft-money" Flood

Like flood waters, political corruption takes the path of least resistance. And just when you think you've got the corruption dammed up, it squirts out somewhere else.

Washington politicos told us just a few months ago that they finally had dammed up the flood of corrupt "soft money" that has been pouring into the campaigns of both political parties. Soft money is the term applied to the huge, unlimited amounts of campaign cash that corporations and other special interests had been giving to the parties, totaling about $750 million in the last national election. By passing the McCain-Feingold reform bill, however, Congress banned this soft money from federal elections ... and that was that.

Except that the Federal Election Commission had to issue rules to implement the ban. The FEC, made up of three Republican operatives and three Democrats, has long been notorious as the path of least resistance for the money corruption of our politics, and the commissioners wrote the rules so that (squirt) the corrupt soft money can come right back into the process.

For example, while the McCain-Feingold bill banned national parties from using soft money, the FEC ruled that state and local parties can raise and spend unlimited sums of it for national elections, including using it to pay the salaries of campaign staff working on national campaigns. In other words, the law says that a corporation can't put a million-dollar contribution in a party's front pocket, but, wink-wink, the FEC says a corporation can put the money in the party's back pocket.

Then there's the FEC's grandfather loophole. While the new law prohibits national parties from taking soft money after November 6, the FEC says the parties can set up "independent" soft-money committees before that date, and these committees can keep operating forever, plus these front-group committees needn't even bother reporting where their money comes from!

To help replace the FEC with a real watchdog, call Congress Watch, 202-588-1000.

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