525 Committees - UNREGULATED GROUPS WIELD MILLIONS TO SWAY...

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UNREGULATED GROUPS WIELD MILLIONS TO SWAY VOTERS Special interests, millionaires skirt campaign limits. By Stephanie Simon Times Staff Writer October 30, 2006 Sterling, Colo. — Unions, corporations and wealthy individuals have pumped nearly $300 million this year into unregulated political groups, funding dozens of aggressive and sometimes shadowy campaigns independent of party machines. The groups, both liberal and conservative, air TV and radio spots, conduct polls, run phone banks, canvass door-to-door and stage get-out-the-vote rallies, with no oversight by the Federal Election Commission. Set up as tax-exempt "issue advocacy" committees, they cannot explicitly endorse candidates. But they can do everything short of telling voters how to mark their ballots. Because they can accept unlimited donations from any source, the committees — known as 527s — have emerged as the favored vehicle for millionaires and interest groups seeking to set the political agenda. "It's become the new way to do business in politics," said Pete Maysmith, a national director of Common Cause, a nonprofit that lobbies for more transparency in campaign finance. Named for a section of the IRS code, 527s have been around for years but became a political force in 2004 after the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002 — also known as the McCain--Feingold Bill — limited donations to political parties. Groups such as Swift Boat Veterans for Truth on the right and America Coming Together on the left contributed $600 million that year, with a heavy focus on the presidential race. The cash flow is lower this year because it's a midterm campaign, but 527s and a related type of organization known as 501(c)s have expanded their reach. With the Nov. 7 election days away, the groups are flooding the airwaves in state and local races as well as congressional contests.
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