New PAC May Test Finance Rules

Lawmakers Will Solicit Donors for GOP Group

Republican campaign law guru James Bopp Jr. is trying to pioneer a new way to fund political campaigns by having federal lawmakers, candidates and parties encourage donors to make unlimited contributions to a new group that can spend the money in their elections. He says his new group is operating within recent legal interpretations of campaign finance regulations, but his critics say he is breaking the law.

Two campaign finance reform watchdogs took aim at Bopp's new Republican Super PAC fundraising group Tuesday, saying its fundraising strategy violates the ban on unlimited soft money established in 2002.

The Campaign Legal Center and Democracy 21 say political action committees are not allowed to use federal candidates and parties to raise unlimited funds.

"We consider this a violation of the soft money ban on national parties," said Fred Wertheimer, president of Democracy 21. "We believe it would also violate the ban on federal officeholders soliciting unlimited monies."

But Bopp shot back that those making these allegations do not understand campaign finance law.

"Look, I am the treasurer," he said. "I am the one that is going to be held responsible, and I'm an expert and I guarantee you this is legal. My wife insisted upon it."

Bopp's group plans to raise unlimited individual and corporate contributions for independent expenditures in support of federal and state candidates. What makes the group different from other independent expenditure organizations such as American Crossroads is how it will use Congressional candidates to raise the organization's money: by asking federal lawmakers and parties to direct surplus donations to the Republican Super PAC and directing the PAC to spend it for those candidates.

"What they will do is ask donors to max out to them," Bopp said, "and then if you have more money to elect a president or elect one of these Senators, then give it to the Super PAC and earmark it for those particular candidates."

Paul S. Ryan, an attorney with the Campaign Legal Center who works on election law issues, said the PAC's premise not only violates the specifics of the law under the statute but also undermines the spirit of the law when it comes to corruption.

"The threat of corruption arises from the successful solicitation of money from a supporter," Ryan said, "not from the specific type of bank account it is deposited in."

Bopp explained that the Republican Super PAC would be unlike other PACs because it would give individuals a way to affect a candidate's race even after giving the maximum contributions to that candidate.

For instance, an individual can donate a maximum total of $5,000 to a candidate for his or her primary and general elections. But that candidate could tell the donor that he may contribute another $100,000 to Republican Super PAC, which will earmark and spend his money on independent expenditures to help elect that same candidate.

The groups also allege Bopp's money-raising strategy violates the soft money ban enacted by the McCain-Feingold reform laws enacted in 2002.

"It's really ignorant to call this soft money," Bopp said in response. "That's someone who does not understand what they are talking about."

"The term 'soft money' is not defined anywhere in federal law so using that term may be a convenient way for Bopp to avoid addressing the real issue," Ryan said. "He can say whatever he wants about what soft money is in the aftermath of Citizens United or SpeechNow, but soft money is not a defined term."

Privately, other Republicans expressed concern about the legality of Bopp's new group — and whether his true aim is another high-profile court case.

"Their proposed activity is well beyond the established m.o. of outside groups — activity most groups wouldn't touch with a 10-foot pole," said one senior GOP operative who has worked with outside groups. "This activity will almost certainly end them up in court, which suggests that a new court case is likely their aim."

In addition to Bopp, Republican Super PAC is led by two officials of the Republican National Committee. PAC Chairman Roger Villere works on promotion and client relations for the organization, while Vice Chairman Solomon Yue is in charge of the organization's expenditures. The three of them plan on holding a meeting Wednesday in Dallas with the RNC to discuss the new organization.

Other campaign finance experts speculated that Bopp was using the group to create a new legal challenge. But the lawyer who launched the landmark Citizens United Supreme Court case and filed nearly 100 campaign finance lawsuits over his career rejected this idea.

"I am not trying to run this as a test case," Bopp said. "I think this group squarely fits within what is legal now."

Shira Toeplitz contributed to this report.