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August 29, 2007

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Scandals?  Here's one!!  I think we will like this one??

Soros-linked group hit with huge fine

The Federal Election Commission has fined one of the last cycle’s biggest liberal political action committees $775,000 for using unregulated soft money to boost John Kerry and other Democratic candidates during the 2004 elections.

America Coming Together (ACT) raised $137 million for its get-out-the-vote effort in 2004, but the FEC found most of that cash came through contributions that violated federal limits.

The group’s big donors included George Soros, Progressive Corp. chairman Peter Lewis and the Service Employees International Union.

The settlement, which the FEC approved unanimously, is the third largest enforcement penalty in the commission’s 33-year history.

ACT, which ceased operations in 2005, was formed in late 2003 and rapidly deployed an enormous organization to do the retail-level grunt work of politics.

It opened more than 90 offices in 17 states from which it mobilized an army of more than 25,000 paid canvassers and volunteers to knock on doors, stuff envelopes and make phone calls urging voters to defeat President Bush and support Democratic or “progressive” candidates including Kerry, the Democratic presidential candidate.

The FEC dismissed allegations that that Kerry’s campaign and the Democratic National Committee violated campaign laws by coordinating with ACT or accepting excessive contributions from the group.

ACT was among a new breed of political committee, known as 527 groups, that stretched campaign finance rules on their way to shaping the 2004 elections.

Operatives used the 527s, named for the section of the IRS code under which they were registered, to spend money on politics outside the FEC’s purview.

But the groups have largely faded from the political landscape as the FEC has sought to rein them in. Late last year, commissioners handed down a total of $630,000 in penalties to three top 527s: Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, MoveOn.org and the League of Conservation Voters, and there are more complaints pending.

But the heads of two of the non-profit campaign finance reform groups behind many of the complaints, including the one that led to the ACT penalty, say it’s all too little, too late.

“This action comes more than three years after our FEC complaints were filed and nearly three years after the 2004 presidential election was held,” read a statement from Fred Wertheimer, president of Democracy 21, and Gerry Hebert, executive director of the Campaign Legal Center.

Plus, they argued, the fine “represents only a tiny fraction” of the amount ACT spent illegally on the 2004 elections.

Wertheimer also is involved in a lawsuit to compel the FEC to pass a set of comprehensive rules regulating 527s, without which he said the groups are likely to reemerge in the 2008 campaign.

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