Ney Given Power to Subpoena Leaders of Democratic 527s

Posted November 20, 2003 at 11:53am

An unusually contentious House Administration Committee hearing ended Thursday morning with the panel voting to grant Chairman Bob Ney (R-Ohio) authority to subpoena the leaders of several Democratic fundraising groups.

The committee convened to question the chiefs of a handful of recently formed organizations — created under Section 527 of the tax code — that intend to raise soft money to influence federal elections. Ney said he called the hearing to examine whether the groups were attempting to evade the soft-money restrictions imposed by the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act.

Ney asked nine witnesses to give testimony, but the six invited Democrats — Partnership for America’s Families CEO Steve Rosenthal, Democratic Senate Majority Fund Executive Director Marc Farinella, New House PAC head Howard Wolfson, America Votes President Cecile Richards, America Coming Together President Ellen Malcolm and Voices for Working Families’ former Chairman Gerald McEntee — did not appear.

Although the committee gave Ney the authority to issue subpoenas to those six individuals, Ney spokesman Brian Walsh said after the hearing that the chairman had not yet decided whether or when to do so.

“We’re going to take some time and look at this,” Walsh said.

Despite the fact that the Democratic fundraisers had already informed the House Administration panel that they would not show up, the committee still made a point of putting their name cards in front of empty chairs at the witness table.

Ney said those witnesses “have chosen to thumb their nose at the Committee on House Administration” and that their behavior “proved [BCRA] doesn’t ban soft money despite incessant complaints by its supporters to the contrary.”

But House Administration ranking member John Larson (D-Conn.) accused Ney of conducting “a partisan inquiry” that represented “the hijacking of official government resources” for Republican political purposes.

Three Republican witnesses — Susan Hirschmann of the Leadership Forum as well as Frank Donatelli and George Terwilliger, both affiliated with Americans for a Better Country — appeared, but Ney said he did not wish to hear testimony from one side and not the other, so he quickly excused them.

(Earlier this week, Americans for a Better Country asked the Federal Election Commission for an advisory opinion on whether it can engage in its planned campaign activities this cycle, which include raising and distributing soft money for the purpose of funding voter registration and turnout drives.)

The committee immediately convened a business meeting, which consisted of statements by various House Administration members and was characterized by an unusual level of acrimony for the panel.

At one point, Larson attempted to give his opening statement and was informed by Ney that he was out of order.

“This hearing is out of order,” Larson responded.