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DECEMBER 8, 1998   1:49 PM
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
CONTACT: Common Cause & Democracy 21
Jeff Cronin/John Anthony, 202-736-5770, both of CC
Jennifer Fuson of Democracy 21, 202-429-2008
 
Common Cause, Democracy 21 Urge FEC to Hold Clinton, Dole Campaigns Legally Accountable for 1996 Campaign Advertising Abuses
 
WASHINGTON - December 8 - Common Cause and Democracy 21 today strongly urged the Federal Election Commission (FEC) to uphold its staff's findings that the 1996 Clinton and Dole campaigns committed massive violations of the presidential election spending limits and should accordingly make major repayments of public funds.

In a joint letter delivered today to members of the FEC, Common Cause and Democracy 21 urged the FEC not to abandon "the Commission's own standard of law - the 'electioneering message' standard - for determining when political party ads are subject to federal contribution and spending limits."

The FEC staff found that the 1996 party ads, run in coordination with the Clinton and Dole campaigns, contained "electioneering messages" and therefore should be treated as campaign ads covered by federal campaign finance laws.

The Common Cause-Democracy 21 letter comes on the heels of the December 3 meeting of the Commission to discuss its own staff's audits of the 1996 Clinton and Dole campaigns. The staff audit reports cited substantial evidence and found that both campaigns engaged in massive illegal schemes to violate the presidential campaign finance laws. According to the FEC staff audits, the Clinton campaign broke a $31-million spending limit by more than $46 million, and the Dole campaign spent more than $17 million outside the limits.

The Commission will take the issue up again at its meeting tomorrow, December 9.

In their letter, Common Cause President Ann McBride and Democracy 21 President Fred Wertheimer noted that, at the FEC's recent meeting, some Commissioners complained that the electioneering message standard "is too vague and that it has never been formally promulgated through the rulemaking process so the 'regulated community' could be on notice of its application.

"The discussion by some Commissioners," the letter continued, "made it seem as if they believe the 'electioneering message' standard had been plucked from an alien source and foisted it on the Commission for the purposes of these audits."

Common Cause and Democracy 21 pointed out that the Commission itself developed the "electioneering message" standard as far back as 1984 and has for over a decade repeatedly applied it to Matters Under Review, advisory opinions and court cases. In 1995, the letter continues, the Commission itself again set forth the "electioneering message" standard as the applicable standard for determining when ads are treated as campaign ads, and are covered by federal campaign finance laws. The Commission itself has continued to apply this standard, even as recently as just six months ago.

"It would be wholly inappropriate, and arbitrary and capricious, for the Commission to now retroactively abandon the Commission's own standard after the fact, in order to avoid holding the Clinton and Dole campaigns accountable for massive violations of the law during the 1996 presidential elections," according to the Common Cause-Democracy 21 letter.

"To reject the staff audit recommendations by now discarding the Commission's 'electioneering message' standard would be to subvert, in a completely arbitrary and post hoc manner, the statute you are sworn to uphold and enforce.

"And it would mean, as a practical matter, that the Commission is construing the presidential spending limits out of existence, for the Commission would be approving a means of blatantly evading those limits that presidential candidates would surely follow in the future," according to the letter.

"It is no doubt true that the presidential campaigns and their political parties would now welcome the Commission arbitrarily abandoning its own settled law in an effort to supply a post hoc rationalization of their reckless campaign spending that the Commission staff correctly found violated the law in a massive way," McBride and Wertheimer wrote.

"To do so, however, would be wholly inappropriate and wrong and would foster continued lawlessness in future campaigns.

"The Commission has an obligation to uphold the spirit and the meaning of the campaign finance laws, and to enforce the law in a manner that will ensure that those who violate it face real consequences, for absent such enforcement there will be no compliance, and thus no law."

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