Leahy Supports Changes to ‘527’ Campaign Finance Loophole

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(Host) Senator Patrick Leahy says it’s unlikely that Congress will move to restrict the new, highly aggressive political groups that have made a mark in the presidential campaign. But Leahy says he’s concerned about the impact that these groups are having on the race.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports.

(Kinzel) The groups are known as 527s after the section in the tax code that governs independent political organizations. The groups are not subject to the provisions of the McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform law governing contribution limits and financial disclosure.

In some cases this year, individuals have contributed more than a million dollars to a help a specific 527 group run TV ads that are often highly critical of one of the presidential candidates. The group that has gotten the most publicity for their efforts has been the Swift Boat committee which has run ads questioning Democratic candidate John Kerry’s experience in the Vietnam War. On the other side, MoveOn.org has run a series of ads in a number of battleground states criticizing President Bush.

Senator McCain says he wants to introduce legislation when Congress returns to Washington this week that will subject the 527s to the same contribution and disclosure regulations of his campaign finance law. And McCain wants Congress to quickly pass the bill so that it can go into effect during this campaign season.

Senator Leahy says he hopes to work with McCain on this issue but he seriously doubts that it will be possible to pass a bill in just a few weeks. Leahy points out that campaign reform laws involve a delicate balance of constitutional rights.

(Leahy) “When you call all the way back to Buckley v. Valeo in the Supreme Court it’s going to be very, very difficult to craft something that might be constitutional. I’m not interested in voting for something that will make us all feel good that’s not going to go anywhere. If we’re going to do something, let’s make sure it’s done well.”

(Kinzel) Leahy says he’s disappointed that the presidential campaign has already taken on a very negative tone. He says he strongly opposes the use of negative ads but he’s encouraging Democratic candidate Kerry to respond to these attacks if they continue:

(Leahy) “Frankly, as a Democrat, I’d much rather see us run on a positive message. I’d rather see us run on the issues. But if there’s going to be nothing but attacks from the other side then I think you’re going to see a lot of attacks back.”

(Kinzel) To date, the Democrats have been more successful than the Republicans raising money for 527 groups but GOP fundraising efforts are expected to increase in the coming weeks.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier.

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