WASHINGTON – Rep. Albert Wynn said the “527” committees that flourished during the 2004 presidential campaign lacked “transparency, accountability and diversity,” and he wants to do something about it.
But instead of reining in the 527s, the Mitchellville Democrat said he will introduce legislation that would remove limits on campaign spending by political parties. He said those limits, which were part of the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002, weakened the national parties and created a situation that let the 527s take off.
“What we need is more freedom,” Wynn said Thursday, as he announced plans for the 527 Fairness Act.
The bill, which is being co-sponsored by Wynn and Rep. Mike Pence, R-Ind., would remove some of the current spending limits on national committees and give nonprofit groups more freedom to use individual contributions in their advertisements, as 527s now do.
Advocacy groups like the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth rose to national prominence in 2004 by exploiting their status as 527s — the name refers to the section of the tax code that authorizes them — and using large, essentially unregulated contributions to fund political advertisements.
It was the first year that national political parties and other traditional campaign organizations were limited in what they could raise and spend during a presidential election.
Members in both houses of Congress and on both sides of the aisle responded quickly with bills to rectify what they saw as a problem, aiming to change the situation before the 2006 election cycle begins.
The original sponsors of the reform bill, Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Russ Feingold, D-Wis., have put forward a bill that would require 527s to register as political committees, thus placing them under fund-raising and spending restrictions.
Wynn’s bill takes the other tack.
“I believe in the important role that political parties play in elections,” Wynn said in a prepared statement. He said his bill “strengthens this role by eliminating unnecessary restrictions on political party hard-money fund raising.”
Wynn is not the first Maryland lawmaker to attack the campaign spending restrictions in the 2002 law: Rep. Roscoe Bartlett, R-Frederick, has already filed a bill to roll back part of the McCain-Feingold reforms.
Bartlett’s bill would repeal a section of the law that prohibits advertising by organizations like labor unions and nonprofits within a certain time period before an election.
A spokeswoman said Bartlett believes that the 2002 campaign reforms he is targeting violate the Constitution by restricting free speech rights. But spokeswoman Lisa Wright would not comment on Wynn’s bill, which had not been published Thursday.
Wynn and Pence said they hoped to file their 527 Fairness Act sometime next week.
“I think both sides lost under” the Campaign Finance Reform Act, Wynn said. He said his bill “brings common sense back to our so-called campaign finance reform.”
-30- CNS 03-10-05