Reforms Not Expected to Change Much; Campaign Finance Rules Will Put Focus on Interest Groups, Observers Say

Article excerpt

Byline: Stephen Dinan, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

Expect state parties and outside interest groups to become more powerful but not much more to change when campaign finance regulations - passed by Congress this week - take effect next year, say observers on both sides of the battle.

"Gone will be one easy avenue for big money, which is the opportunity to write huge checks to the national parties, but absent that everything else will remain pretty much as it is," said Ellen S. Miller, senior fellow at the American Prospect magazine, who says the regulations have some "design flaws."

The bill prohibits national political parties from taking "soft money," the uncapped donations used for organization activities and for issue ads, as opposed to small-dollar "hard money" contributions. It also prohibits interest groups from running issue ads paid for with soft money in the weeks before an election.

Ms. Miller said that the regulations, which the president said he will sign into law, will reduce the amount of money in politics for a few years but that soon the system will reach an equilibrium very much like it is at now, with the two parties settling in and incumbents enjoying even more of an advantage in races.

Phil Kent at the Southeastern Legal Foundation said the new law would have both enforcement problems and loopholes.

"Everything is so vague and broad, I think the first problem's going to be with the Federal Election Commission; they're going to have a tremendous headache facing them," he said. The FEC will have to write rules implementing the law.

Mr. Kent, who is planning to join a suit against the regulations, said the new system will just put a lot more focus on interest groups, which can still raise and spend soft money under the new rules, and will strengthen state and local parties, which can still collect soft money to be used for organization activities.

But Seth Amgott, a spokesman for Common Cause, which strongly backed the regulations, said that getting the money out of politics wasn't the point and that ending the connection between politicians and large donations was the goal. …