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Convention Funding Rules Spark Feud

As the Federal Election Commission begins to examine the funding of national party conventions, some GOP lawmakers are sparring with groups such as Common Cause over whether soft-money prohibitions should apply to the presidential nominating extravaganzas.

The campaign watchdog agency, which has been fielding public comments on the matter over the past several weeks, held a public hearing Friday on proposals to revise regulations governing publicly financed presidential candidates and national nominating conventions.

“The general soft money loophole has not been closed by the enactment of BCRA,” attorney Don Simon wrote on behalf of Common Cause and Democracy 21, referring to the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act.

Last December, both groups called for a revision of FEC rules on convention funding to reflect the new law.

Continued Simon: “The principles and prohibitions of BCRA apply as much to the national parties, and federal officeholders and candidates, in the specific context of convention funding as they do in the broader context of other federal election activities.”

Simon went on to assert that neither the national party committees nor federal officeholders and candidates can solicit soft money for the House committees or any other entity associated with the upcoming presidential extravaganzas.

However, in separate letters to the FEC, lawyers for Sen. George Allen (R-Va.) and Rep. Tom Reynolds (R-N.Y.), the respective chairmen of the Senate and House campaign committees, argued that the new law’s soft-money ban should not prevent lawmakers from raising unlimited funds for the host committees of the 2004 national conventions.

“Solicitations for host committees should not be viewed in any context as solicitations ‘in connection with’ federal and non-federal elections, despite the past actions of the Commission in this area,” National Republican Senatorial Committee General Counsel Stephen Hoersting wrote on behalf of Allen.

Hoersting went on to argue that under BCRA, lawmakers are allowed to solicit unlimited funds for any organization that operates under section 501(c) of the Internal Revenue Code and that host committees are 501(c) groups.

Writing on behalf of Reynolds — whose home state of New York will host the 2004 Republican National Convention — GOP lawyer Donald McGahn also argued that federal candidates should not be bound by the soft-money ban in BCRA.

“Under the clear language of BCRA, federal officeholders and candidates may solicit funds without limitation to not-for-profit host committees,” Reynolds wrote. “In other words, money solicited for or raised by the host committee does not constitute ‘soft money’ prohibited by BCRA.”

The respective host committees in Boston and New York, representatives of which testified at last week’s hearing, also defended their right to continue raising money in the conventional fashion and fought the notion that they are somehow linked to federal elections.

“Without question, the Host Committee has been organized not to enhance or support any branch or entity affiliated with partisan politics or any candidate, but to support the city and region in commercial and civic growth,” Cheryl Cronin wrote on behalf of the Boston Host Committee, which will host the 2004 Democratic National Convention.

Other issues being addressed by the FEC in this proposed rulemaking range from whether presidential candidates should be able to draw a salary from their campaign war chests to whether certain expenditures by leadership PACs of individuals also running for president should have those expenditures counted toward their spending limits if the expenses are in connection with their presidential campaign.

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