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At the Starting Gate for Soft-Money Race

The general election is still many months away, but campaign finance advocates see hints that the party faithful are already plotting to channel millions of dollars in unlimited contributions -- so-called "soft money" -- into the 2008 presidential race.

As exhibit one, they point to papers filed with the Internal Revenue Service last week by three big names in Democratic fundraising circles, John Podesta, Rob McKay and Anna Burger. The three have formed the Fund for America, an independent advocacy group that has been formed under section 527 of the tax code.

Podesta served as President Clinton's chief of staff. McKay is a prominent donor to progressive causes and candidates who gave $345,000 to America Coming Together (ACT) during the 2004 election. (ACT paid $775,000 to the Federal Election Commission in August to settle charges that it violated campaign finance laws by directing millions of dollars in soft money to try to defeat President Bush in 2004.) And Burgeris the secretary-treasurer of the labor union SEIU. SEIU donated $4 million to ACT during the 2004 campaign.

So what, exactly, is the Fund for America? According to its filing, the group's purpose is "to accept and disburse funds in order to create a lasting progressive majority voice in public affairs."

Those familiar with the organization say the group's plans are not "fully baked," but that they hope to raise and distribute money across the progressive spectrum. Podesta's office directed calls to attorney Christine A. Varney, who served as chief counsel to the Clinton-Gore campaign and in the Clinton administration as Assistant to the President and Secretary to the Cabinet. She said, at this early stage, she had no comment.

Fred Wertheimer, a campaign finance advocate who has fought for years to end the use of soft money in political campaigns, said he has strong suspicions about what the group plans to do: "This is the organizing vehicle for the Democrats efforts to inject soft money into the 2008 presidential election."

Wertheimer believes the group is being set up to accept contributions and distribute them to other progressive organizations. That structure may be intended to avoid directly contradicting earlier FEC rulings about what 527 groups can and cannot do, Wertheimer said. "It appears they are looking for a more sophisticated way to inject those funds again in 2008."

--Matthew Mosk

By Washington Post editors  |  November 12, 2007; 11:17 AM ET
 
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