The Federal Election Commission has decided to drop a 4-year-old case accusing major business organizations of illegally coordinating their 1996 campaign efforts with the Republican Party, but only after a stinging report by FEC investigators that questioned the credibility of "much of the testimony."
FEC lawyers said in their final report that "the facts make for a compelling case" of illegal coordination under the rules in place during the 1996 campaign but could not meet the restrictive standard the commission adopted last year. They recommended the case be closed, which the commission did last month.
The business groups, which undertook a $5-million advertising campaign to defend House Republicans against a $35-million attack by the AFL-CIO, responded angrily in a letter to the commission last week, denouncing the staff report as "inaccurate, vindictive, defensive and stunningly unfair."
Banded together as "the Coalition," the industry groups also protested that they had been treated more harshly than the AFL-CIO, which the FEC stopped pursuing almost a year ago despite what the Coalition said was stronger evidence of "coordination" between organized labor and the Democratic Party.
The FEC report noted that witnesses for the most part "denied or could not recall any discussions" with then-House Republican Conference Chairman John A. Boehner of Ohio, widely described as the man in charge of "taking on organized labor," or other party leaders or candidates about the Coalition's ads or activities, the AFL-CIO ad campaign or a response to that campaign.
Representatives of the five founding members of the Coalition--the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the National Assn. of Manufacturers, the National Restaurant Assn., the National Assn. of Wholesaler-Distributors and the National Federation of Independent Business--regularly attended meetings Boehner held each Thursday with business and trade groups to discuss ways of winning congressional passage of the GOP's "Contract with America" and how to "mobilize" members.
According to the FEC report, the Coalition was established in April 1996, shortly after Boehner warned in a speech to the U.S. Chamber of union efforts to "defeat the Republican majority in Congress" and to reelect President Clinton.