Brave New Worlds of Politics

Committees Cope With Reform

Posted January 15, 2003 at 6:14pm

House and Senate campaign committees have embarked on a broad education effort to ensure that Members as well as consultants, lobbyists and other interest groups are fully informed of the confines the new landmark campaign finance law places on them.

“This is a seismic change in the way we do business,” said Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee spokeswoman Tovah Ravitz-Meehan.

Although the full implications of the law are not yet known, several major changes are clear:

o Soft money, which previously could be raised in unlimited amounts, is banned under the new law;

o hard-money limits will double, however, as individuals will be able to donate $2,000 in each election (primary, general election and runoff); and

o the Supreme Court is expected to hear an appeal to the law — led by Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) — before the end of the year.

Despite the pending court case, the committees — aided by an army of lawyers — are planning a variety of informational sessions for Members and strategists aimed at answering the myriad questions the law presents.

The committees’ proactive approach may also serve as a deterrent to breaches of the new law, violations that could result in hefty fines on either candidates, vendors or the committees themselves.

“The point of this is to get all our partners together so that they better understand the law,” Ravitz-Meehan said. “We are going to do business with them, and we need to make sure that in addition to the DSCC understanding the law, all our partners understand it as well.”

To this point, the DSCC has been the most aggressive of the four committees in its outreach to groups affected by the new restrictions.

The committee is in the midst of a series of seminars designed to make clear the limits and loopholes of the new law.

Last Thursday, Democratic Senators met at the DSCC with Bob Bauer and Marc Elias, both attorneys in Perkins Coie’s Political Law Group based in Washington, D.C. Bauer, the uber-lawyer of Democratic politics, has also written a book on the subject called “Soft Money, Hard Law,” which was released in May 2002.

At a recent forum on the impact of the new law, Bauer complained that it would “rip out 60 percent” of the Democratic Party’s budget and create unbridled chaos.

“Administrative headache doesn’t begin to describe it,” Bauer said.

The briefing included a PowerPoint presentation and a question-and-answer session, Ravitz-Meehan said.

DSCC Chairman Jon Corzine (N.J.) along with Executive Director Andy Grossman are also meeting individually with Senators to address more specific concerns.

On Tuesday, media consultants were brought in for a similar briefing.

“It was a very straightforward, non-editorial” presentation, said a source in the room.

The source added that the session was helpful because while “most people are familiar with the broad goal of the law, there are a lot of practical concerns that people weren’t familiar with.”

Other sessions are planned with chiefs of staff, fundraisers and representatives of labor and the progressive community as well as Democratic lobbyists.

The National Republican Senatorial Committee is not sponsoring meetings of its own but instead is urging interested parties to attend a March conference organized by the Federal Election Commission that will review the new campaign finance laws.

Although the FEC has held these types of meetings since 1980, a spokeswoman for the commission said registration, which began Friday, is “ahead of its normal pace.”

The first conference, to be held March 12-13 in Washington, promises “training on the new provisions of the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act” and “an opportunity to discuss problems and questions with FEC Commissioners and staff,” according to a flier.

The March conference is targeted at candidates and party committees. It will be followed by a seminar in April for corporations, a May meeting for trade associations and a June session for the labor community.

Ben Ginsberg, a Republican lawyer who carries both the NRSC and the National Republican Congressional Committee as clients, said he has met with a number of Senators and House Members to field questions about the new law.

Ginsberg has also been holding a series of meetings with field staff and state parties around the nation over the past six weeks.

“They will survive it, but it will be in a different form,” Ginsberg said recently.

Dan Allen, spokesman for the NRSC, said that GOP “Senators are being very careful to learn and understand the new rules and how they apply.”

On the House side, NRCC General Counsel Don McGahn has written several memos to Members outlining the new donation limits as well as answers to frequently asked questions about the new law.

“I have been getting a lot of calls from chiefs of staff and Members,” McGahn said.

He is also planning to speak to Members when they return to Washington on Jan. 27 and at a follow-up session at the GOP House retreat set for Feb. 6-8 at the Greenbrier resort in West Virginia.

McGahn said those two sessions will be a “soup to nuts” review of the law.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee began its education effort in early December as part of newly elected Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi’s (Calif.) economic summit. Bauer and fellow Perkins Coie attorney Judith Corley briefed Members on the nuance of the law during that meeting.

Other events are planned, but DCCC officials were unable to provide details.

While the committees are clearly working to both understand and convey the impact of the campaign finance strictures, several observers noted that the main goals of these organizations remain unchanged. Ginsberg said that although “there is an awful lot of activity in the community as a whole,” much of the focus of the NRSC and NRCC is on “kicking up their federal, hard-dollar fundraising.”

“As a historical matter what goes on in the first six months of the cycle is the least active period,” Ginsberg said. “The greatest activity is amongst special-interest groups, 527 committees and nonfederal committees because they are the growth entity under the new law.”

Amy Keller contributed to this report.