Political Pros Have Learned to Adapt

Times Staff Writer

Political professionals have spent the last six months learning to operate without the donations known as “soft money” that were banned by a controversial campaign law. Friday’s federal court ruling on the law may scramble the fund-raising world even further.

Under the court’s opinion, parties would be free once again to raise soft money for many purposes -- but not for airing broadcast advertisements that promote or attack federal candidates.

Those ads had been the source of much of the complaints about soft money.

Also, politicians themselves generally would be prohibited from helping raise the money.


Whether party officials plan to shift their strategy yet again is unclear. Officials said Friday that they would have to study the ruling to learn how it affects their operations.

Backers of the law could ask the Supreme Court to block the lower court’s ruling temporarily while they argue the case. Ultimately, the high court will have the final word.

The law was enacted in March 2002, seven years after Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Russell D. Feingold (D-Wis.) first teamed up to push for campaign reform.

In both chambers, most supporters of the measure were Democrats and most opponents Republicans.

At the time he signed the bill, President Bush declared it “far from perfect” and said “certain provisions present serious constitutional concerns.”

However, Bush said that, on balance, the law would “improve the current financing system for federal campaigns.”

Parts of the law began to take effect Nov. 6, the day after the congressional midterm elections. In the months since, both parties have adapted to the new system.

Defying predictions that the law would gut party fund-raising, Republican and Democratic committees alike raised millions of dollars in the first three months of 2003 in what is known as “hard money” -- federally regulated contributions of no more than $2,000 per individual or $5,000 per political action committee.


The individual limit was doubled under the 2002 law -- the first such increase since 1974.

“Certainly, at this point, we’ve done pretty well under the hard money rules,” said Michael Siegel, a spokesman for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.

Siegel said the committee reported raising about $5 million.

Carl Forti, a spokesman for the National Republican Congressional Committee, which reported raising $22 million, said: “We’ve obviously had to retool our fund-raising, but at the same time, we’ve been very successful so far.”