Federal Judge Overturns FEC Election Regulations; Ruling Could Roil Campaign

Article excerpt

Byline: Amy Fagan, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

A federal judge has overturned more than a dozen regulations created by the Federal Election Commission to implement the 2002 campaign-finance law, because she said the regulations were too weak.

The decision by U.S. District Court Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly has the potential to cause political confusion for candidates in the last heated weeks before the election.

FEC Commissioner Michael Toner, a Republican, said he is "very disappointed" in the ruling and thinks the court should avoid confusion by saying whether the ruling is effective immediately.

Mr. Toner wants to stay the ruling, keeping the current regulations in place for the remaining weeks of the election season, until the case is appealed or the rules are rewritten. He said any other course would result in chaos, because there would be no rules telling campaigns, for example, what constitutes illegal "coordination" with political parties.

"If history is any guide, any uncertainty or ambiguity about what the law is has the potential to be exploited by political operatives on both sides of the aisle," he said.

In her decision, issued without publicity Saturday, the judge said some of the regulations the FEC crafted after the new campaign-finance law was passed in 2002 did not carry out the intent of the law and some weakened or created loopholes around it.

The judge's ruling doesn't pertain to the campaign-finance law's main provisions banning soft-money donations in federal elections. But on such issues as when candidates and outside parties can coordinate activities, the FEC must return to the drawing board, the judge said.

The congressional sponsors of the campaign-finance law sued the FEC in 2002, arguing that 19 FEC regulations weren't tough enough and were actually undermining their new law.

Yesterday, they applauded the judge's ruling, which agreed that 15 of those regulations did not fully implement the law.

"This is a great decision, which provides further evidence the FEC had no intention of enforcing campaign-finance law as it was intended to be enforced," said Rep. Christopher Shays, the Connecticut Republican who filed the suit along with Rep. Martin T. …