Fined Over '04 Ads
The Federal Election Commission today issued another in a string of six-figure fines against partisan political groups -- this time against America Coming Together, a group financed by George Soros and labor organizations that sunk more than $100 million into campaign activities intended to help Democrats in the 2004 elections.
The decision to fine the group $775,000, the FEC's third largest penalty in its three-decade history, was intended to send a stern message to independent groups. The FEC has said it will crack down on groups that raise unlimited resources outside of the campaign finance system but then spend that money on political attack ads and other activities aimed at influencing the outcome of specific elections.
The groups are permitted to spend such funds on more generic activities, such as voter drives. But in this case, the FEC determined that ACT was spending its money on political ads, telemarketing, and door-to-door canvassing targeting clearly identified federal candidates.
It cited several examples of materials that targeted President Bush in the 2004 contest, including one ad attacking Bush's health care policy. The ad asserted that seniors face skyrocketing prescription drug costs and big insurance and drug companies were reaping record profits "because George Bush blocked re-importation of less expensive medicines from Canada. And Bush said 'no' to guaranteeing price controls on health care costs."
"ACT failed properly to attribute and report expenditures attributable to specific candidates, failed properly to allocate and report joint administrative activities and used non-federal funds to pay the federal share of such allocated expenses," the FEC determined.
The fine was reached as part of a conciliation agreement with ACT, meaning the group agreed to the findings and the terms of the settlement.
The complaint against ACT was brought by Democracy 21, a non partisan campaign finance reform group. In a statement yesterday, the group's president, Fred Wertheimer welcomed the decision, but suggested that the fine was too little too late -- not nearly large enough to deter independent groups from engaging in "huge illegal expenditures ... in the 2008 presidential and congressional elections for the third federal election in a row."
"The amount of the penalty imposed against ACT in this case represents only a tiny fraction of the nearly $100 million that the FEC found ACT illegally spent to influence the 2004 election," Wertheimer's statement said.
In response to the FEC announcement, ACT released a statement signaling that the ruling vindicated the group of several allegations against it. ACT said the FEC dismissed charges that ACT leaders coordinated their activities with the Kerry campaign and made clear the violations were not deliberate.
The group settled over the question of whether they should not have spent unregulated funds -- money not subject to the FEC limits -- on campaign activites that directly targeted a specific candidate. ACT called this a "legally and factually complex question."
"Today's actions mark the conclusion of three years of politically motivated charges by the Republican Party and ill-conceived allegations by self-styled campaign finance "reform" groups," the ACT statement said.
Soros has helped finance the group's activity, but had no direct role in its operations.
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