Van Hollen Enters Soft Money Case

Posted January 30, 2009 at 6:23pm

Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Chris Van Hollen (Md.) and the Democratic National Committee separately asked a three-judge panel last week to intervene in a Republican National Committee case that questioned aspects of the 2002 Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act.

Last November, the RNC filed a complaint in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia asking the panel to throw out soft money curbs included in BCRA that prohibit national parties from raising money under state contribution limits, which often have looser campaign finance restrictions.

On Thursday, the RNC filed for summary judgment in the case. Federal Election Commission lawyers, in turn, filed court papers asking the panel to throw out the challenge, arguing that the Supreme Court already decided the issue when it ruled in 2003 that most parts of BCRA, including its soft money provisions, were legal.

Van Hollen, in a statement issued last week, argued that the law had successfully controlled soft money abuses.

“The limitations contained in [BCRA] went a long way toward removing the worst campaign finance abuses from federal elections and controlling the influence of big money and special interests in our political process,” Van Hollen said. “The lawsuit by the RNC would move us in the wrong direction.”

In its filing last year, the RNC had argued that BCRA’s “federal funds restriction” was unconstitutional. The law “bans state, local and district [political] committees of a political party and their officials from using funds subject only to state source and amount limitations to engage in ‘federal election activity.’”

Specifically, the RNC is asking for permission to establish various state-level campaign accounts in New Jersey and elsewhere using state contribution limits — which typically are much higher than federal limits.

Campaign finance reform groups applauded Van Hollen’s intervention in the case, which Democracy 21 characterized as attempting to “eviscerate” portions of the seven-year-old law, a law written by Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Russ Feingold (D-Wis.) and now-retired Reps. Christopher Shays (R-Conn.) and Marty Meehan (D-Mass.).

“The RNC would take us back to the campaign finance dark ages and a world where unlimited, six- and seven-figure corrupting contributions were provided by influence-seeking corporations, business executives and other special interests to the national parties, and then spent by the parties on attack ads to influence federal elections,” Fred Wertheimer, president of Democracy 21, said in a statement.

McCain, Feingold, Shays and Meehan also are expected to file “friend of the court” briefs disputing the RNC’s claims.

Libertarian groups such as the Center for Competitive Politics last week argued that “the federal government doesn’t have the power to regulate the financing of state and local elections.”

“It shouldn’t be able to tell the national political parties they can raise only limited funds for state and local purposes,” Bradley Smith, Center for Competitive Politics chairman and a former FEC chairman, said in a statement.

“The court will have the opportunity to examine the flawed decision that national party spending on non-federal campaigns can be restricted to remedy a vague and unjustified corruption concern connected to federal politicians,” Smith said.

The DNC’s request to intervene in the case also marks Bob Bauer’s debut as the committee’s new top lawyer.

Bauer, President Barack Obama’s campaign lawyer, was retained recently by the DNC to oversee its political operations, which now includes the remnants of Obama’s campaign, the grass-roots lobbying group Organizing for America.

“Cloaked in the veil of a constitutional challenge, the RNC is callously attempting to dismantle needed reforms to make up for their fundraising deficiencies,” Bauer said in a statement.