NPR's Morning Edition

FEC Undermining Campaign Finance Reform, Critics Say

Bob Edwards, host: Critics of the political money system had a big win early this year. Responding to public dismay over the collapse of Enron, a major campaign donor, Congress passed an overhaul of campaign finance laws known as the McCain-Feingold bill. Since then, critics of the system say their victory has been systematically eroded. Reform leaders are back on the offensive. NPR's Peter Overby reports.

Peter Overby reporting: When Congress passed the McCain-Feingold reform bill last spring, its advocates took pains to say their fight was only beginning. They were right, maybe more than they knew. They've spent much of the year preparing to defend the law's constitutionality in court. The case will be heard starting December 4th; it's expected to go on to the Supreme Court. The reformers have also blasted the Federal Election Commission for writing regulations that they say cut the guts out of the new law. But yesterday, leaders of the reform movement called on that same commission to go after the Democratic National Committee and the National Republican Congressional Committee. They alleged that both of these committees set up so-called shadow organizations in order to raise the big soft-money contributions that the parties themselves can no longer solicit. Trevor Potter's a former chairman of the Federal Election Commission. Now he's head of the Campaign and Media Legal Center, providing legal support for the reformers.

Mr. Trevor Potter (Campaign and Media Legal Center): It's obvious today that some Washington political operatives do not want to believe that anything has changed.

Overby: Potter said it's like the early 1990s. That's when party leaders started aggressively rounding up soft-money checks from corporations, unions and the wealthy, and the commission didn't stop them.

Mr. Potter: You have political actors who are going beyond the law and gambling that they're going to get away with it....

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