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Watchdog Takes on Lawmakers' '527 Groups'
Published on Wednesday, February 27, 2002 in the Washington Post
Watchdog Takes on Lawmakers' '527 Groups'
by Juliet Eilperin
 
Even as a bill to revise campaign finance laws moves through Congress, corporations are pouring millions of dollars into tax-exempt groups affiliated with legislative leaders, according to the watchdog group Public Citizen. The money went to "527 groups," which can accept unlimited donations from corporations, wealthy individuals and unions and, until recently, did not have to disclose their donors.

In a report released yesterday, Public Citizen found that the 25 biggest 527 groups associated with federal office holders received more than $15.1 million in the 12 months ending June 30, 2001. Most of that came from 27 major industries that gave at least $100,000 each.

Congressional leaders can use their 527 groups for get-out-the-vote efforts, campaign travel costs and other political activities that stop short of advocating a candidate's election or defeat. The 527 groups are a "mechanism for legalized bribery," said Joan Claybrook, president of Public Citizen. "They allow corporations to put unlimited amounts of money directly into the pockets of members of Congress."

The report cites examples such as the Stanford Financial Group, which gave $40,000 to the 527 group of Senate Majority Leader Thomas A. Daschle (D-S.D.), and $50,000 to that of Democratic Caucus Chairman Martin Frost (Tex.). At the time of the donations, Stanford was fighting a Clinton administration proposal on money laundering, and neither leader protested when congressional Republicans scuttled the bill.

A House-passed campaign finance bill, which the Senate will consider soon, would ban the type of "soft money" contributions made to 527 groups.

Polls Show Riordan Struggling

Two new California polls show Richard Riordan, the former Los Angeles mayor once considered a lock to win the Republican nomination in the California gubernatorial race, struggling to prevent millionaire businessman Bill Simon Jr. from besting him in next week's March 5 GOP primary.

The latest Field Poll puts Simon ahead of Riordan 37 percent to 31 percent, with California Secretary of State Bill Jones far back at 9 percent. A Los Angeles Times poll released yesterday showed Riordan and Simon tied at 31 percent each.

A moderate with wide appeal, Riordan was handpicked by the White House to wrest back control of the nation's most populous state from Gov. Gray Davis (D). But Simon has surged into contention by winning over conservatives and stumping across the state with an old colleague -- former New York mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani.

Davis has aided Simon's success with a series of blistering ads attacking Riordan for waffling on abortion and the death penalty.

Florida Fundraising Flap

Florida Democrats say Gov. Jeb Bush (R) has broken a promise to forgo campaign fundraising while the state legislature is in session.

In an e-mail to potential donors last month, Bush said neither he nor his lieutenant governor would raise money for their reelection campaign until lawmakers go home, so that they might focus on legislative matters. Since then, the governor has addressed Republican donors and played in a $25,000-a-person golf tournament. Both events benefited the Florida Republican Party.

A Bush spokeswoman said the governor had promised only to abstain from raising money for his own campaign, leaving him free to raise funds for the state GOP.

The Florida Democratic Party rejected that interpretation. It said some of the money will likely find its way to the governor's fall campaign, and therefore Bush has broken his promise. Democratic officials said the money should be returned or the governor should agree not to accept campaign money from his state party.

Special correspondent Jeff Adler and staff researcher Brian Faler contributed to this report.

© 2002 The Washington Post Company

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