WASHINGTON -- The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, in an effort to slow the Republicans' lucrative political money machine, asked the Federal Election Commission yesterday to stop a GOP scheme to channel more than $2.5 million to Senate candidates.
Late last month, the FEC sued the National Republican Senatorial Committee, charging that in 1986 it evaded federal laws that limit party committee contributions to candidates. The FEC charged the GOP with illegally "bundling" $2.6 million worth of contributions raised through solicitation letters signed by then-Vice President George Bush and funneling it to 12 Republican Senate candidates.
The Democratic committee, in its complaint to the FEC, claimed that the Republicans are again violating those contribution limits through their Inner Circle program, which has already given more than $1.5 million to GOP Senate candidates and expects to add $1 million more.
A Republican spokesman, noting that the Democratic charges were filed less than six weeks before Election Day, dismissed the complaint as a politically motivated "red herring" and said the program was a completely legal operation.
Wealthy Republicans become members of the Inner Circle by giving $1,000 or more. The money is then redirected to GOP Senate campaigns around the country under a formula that gives HTC candidates anywhere from $6 to $70 of every $1,000 distributed. As of the end of August, at least 11 GOP senatorial candidates had received $53,500 from the Inner Circle fund, according to FEC records.
Since the Inner Circle program bypasses the senatorial committee's regular bank account, the $17,500 federal limit on direct contributions by national party committees does not apply, GOP aides contend.
But Democrats argue that the 1990 program is merely an updated version of the 1986 scheme and that it, too, evades federal limits by combining contributions from hundreds of donors and delivering them in a bundle to candidates.
Bob Bauer, a lawyer for the Democratic committee, claimed that since the Republican senatorial committee established and directed the Inner Circle program, the $17,500 limit should apply. He labeled the Republican committee "the single most potent lawbreaker" of federal election statutes since Richard M. Nixon's 1972 presidential re-election campaign.
As of Aug. 31, the Republican committee had raised more than $58 million in the 1990 election cycle, to just $14.3 million for the Democrats, according to the FEC.
Earlier this month, the Democratic attorneys general of Alabama and Illinois sued the committee over what they claimed were deceptive fund-raising tactics in the GOP's "Candidate Escrow Funding" program.