WASHINGTON -- Federal officials yesterday rejected new limits for political groups pouring millions into ads and voter drives in the presidential election, and Republicans predicted that the decision would prompt a surge in big donations for their side.
Several Democratic groups have already begun spending large donations on efforts critical of President Bush or supportive of Democratic candidate John F. Kerry. Republicans had asked the Federal Election Commission to stop the activities under the campaign law that broadly banned from federal elections the big checks known as "soft money."
But four of the six commission members refused yesterday to step in, tabling the issue for at least three months. Even if the commission acts then, it is unlikely that any new rules would affect the November presidential and congressional elections.
David Keating -- executive director of the conservative, antitax group Club for Growth -- said the commission's decision tells major GOP contributors in essence, "Come on in; the water's fine."
"I think that will reassure a lot of the donors that have been hesitant to donate to the types of advertising campaigns the club is launching this weekend on Bush and Kerry's policies," said Keating.
Representative Robert Ney, Republican of Ohio and chairman of the House Administration Committee chairman, asked commission members to testify at a hearing next week to explain the decision. Campaign finance watchdogs said they were considering court action to try to reverse the commission's move.
"The FEC has fundamentally weakened a law it is charged to enforce and has thereby betrayed its very purpose," Senators John S. McCain, Republican of Arizona, and Russ Feingold, Democrat of Wisconsin, said in a written statement. They are the authors of the McCain-Feingold Act, which seeks to curb soft money contributions.
Jim Jordan, a spokesman for three pro-Democratic groups targeted by Republican complaints, said he was pleased with the commission's decision and was not worried about a possible surge in soft money by GOP-leaning groups.
"Republicans were always going to be lavishly funded, regardless of how they ultimately decide to funnel that money," said Jordan, spokesman for America Coming Together, America Votes, and Media Fund.