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U.S. Panel Leaves Recount Funding an Open Question

Times Staff Writer

Can the presidential campaigns use unlimited individual contributions, commonly known as soft money, to pay for a recount if there is one this year? The Federal Election Commission was scheduled to discuss the question Thursday but never got a chance to decide.

The campaign for Republican George Nethercutt, a U.S. Senate candidate in Washington state, withdrew its request for an opinion. Without a question before it, the panel could not vote, so it left the old rules in place.

Those rules allow campaigns to use unlimited individual contributions but no foreign, corporate or union money to fund a recount. But since Congress has adopted a campaign finance law banning soft money in connection with a federal election, it remains unclear whether such donations would be permitted in the event of a recount in the presidential race.

Neither the commission nor Congress has specifically addressed whether that law applied to recounts.

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Commissioner Michael Toner, a Republican, said Thursday he thought it was clear that the rules, which predate the 2002 campaign finance reform law, would apply this year.

Vice Chairwoman Ellen L. Weintraub, a Democrat, agreed, though she said she would have voted to change them.

But Commissioner Scott Thomas, a Democrat, said a regulation, “however well intentioned, cannot trump the statute.”

The commission has previously said that the presidential candidates are free to use their legal and accounting funds to pay for a recount this year. Contributions are limited to $2,000.


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