Show Us the Money; the Federal Election Commission's Final Regulations

Article excerpt


On July 24, 2003, the Federal Election Commission (FEC) adopted final rules that will allow convention city host committees to continue raising and spending soft money to provide critical civic services - including security, transportation and logistical support - for the Democratic and Republican national conventions next year. In doing so, the FEC wisely rejected contentions that the new campaign finance law made these activities illegal, and preserved the ability of the national parties, and the cities who host them, to hold successful and secure national conventions.

Many people from the campaign finance reform community argued that the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002, commonly known as the McCain-Feingold law, made it illegal for convention city host committees to raise and spend soft money for convention activities. They also argued that McCain-Feingold barred federal candidates and officeholders from soliciting soft money on behalf of host committees.

Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican, and the other congressional sponsors of the new law filed comments last year with the FEC stating that the new law "prohibit* the national parties from raising or directing soft money contributions for or to host committees for the political conventions." Mr. McCain and the sponsors contended that the new law "places tight restrictions on the use of soft money for political conventions."

However, during the rulemaking process, the FEC noted that prominent members of Congress who voted for McCain-Feingold disagreed with the sponsors' views and did not believe the new law made it illegal for federal officeholders to solicit soft money for convention host committees. The commission noted that Sen. Edward Kennedy has been involved in highly publicized efforts to raise $20 million in corporate donations for the Boston Host Committee. The Commission also recognized published reports indicating that Sen. John Kerry has likewise assisted in raising soft money donations for the Boston convention effort.

The Commission correctly concluded that McCain-Feingold did not change how national conventions are financed or the legal ability of Members of Congress, such as Messrs. Kennedy and Kerry, to raise soft money for convention host committees.

There is not a single reference in McCain-Feingold to the financing of national conventions or to convention host committees. Moreover, there was virtually no debate in Congress on these issues when the law was enacted. It is inconceivable that Congress, in passing the new campaign finance law, would have intended to transform the way national conventions are financed without extensive debate occurring on the House and Senate floors. …