Court Ruling Won't Stop 527 Ads

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A new court order requiring election regulators to rewrite campaign-finance rules isn’t likely to affect this year’s presidential election, particularly the independent groups funding attack TV and radio ads on both candidates.

The chairman of the Federal Election Commission, Bradley Smith, says current campaign finance regulations are all but certain to remain in place though this fall’s election, despite a court order to rewrite rules implementing the 2002 reform law.

“It is literally impossible to have new regulations prior to the elections,” he told Broadcasting & Cable. Any new rules would have to be submitted for a round of public comment before approval by the commission.

After a commission vote, federal statue requires Congress to be in session 30 days prior to taking effect. Smith said there is little chance all that could be accomplished before the Nov. 2 federal election.

In addition, Smith predicted a commission appeal would enjoy solid legal footing. He pointed out that Sen. John McCain and other sponsors of the legislation have generally said the law and the ensuing regulations accomplished the intended effect, which was to eliminate the gigantic, unrestricted “soft” donations to political parties.

“None of the dire predictions have come true,” he said. Complaints about the FEC's willingness to permit controversial “527 groups” to fund attack ads “is a different issue,”  he said.

Critics of the FEC’s rules hoped that the Sept. 19 ruling would force the FEC to outlaw 527s, the independent groups pumping millions into ads attacking candidates Bush and Kerry, one of the most high-profile being the Switch Boat Veterans For Truth.

Smith said the FEC is likely to vote on whether to seek appeal and a stay of the ruling later this week or early next.

Despite cheers for the court ruling from FCC’s critics, Smith said it was more victory for his agency than defeat.

Several FEC rules were upheld by Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly and some of those struck down failed only on grounds that they did not receive sufficient public notice before the commission’s approval. “It was a victory for the substance of the regulation,” Smith said.

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