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 TIME on politics Congressional Quarterly CNN/AllPolitics CNN/AllPolitics - Storypage, with TIME and Congressional Quarterly

FEC commission considers Clinton, Dole repayments

By Brooks Jackson/CNN

WASHINGTON (December 3) -- The Federal Election Commission (FEC) opened deliberations Thursday on recommendations by its staff that the Clinton and Dole 1996 campaigns pay back millions in federal matching funds. But commissioners seem to be inclined to let the campaigns off the hook for the alleged overspending.


Three of the six commissioners voiced opposition to the standard FEC auditors used to determine that so-called "issue ads" by political parties should legally be counted as campaign commercials for President Bill Clinton and Republican presidential nominee Bob Dole during the 1996 White House race.

A final decision on the matter could be weeks in coming. But since any three commissioners on the six-member panel can block action, it now seems likely the FEC will allow unlimited spending for "issue ads" in future elections. None of the six commissioners defended the staff's position at the public meeting.

Earlier this week the staff recommended that Clinton be required to pay back $7 million and Dole should repay $17.9 million.

The auditors said the ads each contained an "electioneering message" clearly implying support for the candidates and should therefore be treated as campaign ads subject to the spending limits that both candidates agreed to so that they could receive federal matching funds for their primary campaigns.

But the candidates and the parties are disputing the staff's findings, saying the "issue ads" legally are not campaign commercials because they don't specifically advocate the election or defeat of either candidate.

Republican commissioner David Mason called the "electioneering message" standard "fuzzy" and unconstitutional. And Republican commissioner Lee Ann Elliott said, "I don't think that's what the law says."

Democratic commissioner Karl Sandstrom said it would be unfair to apply a definition that the commission had never written into its own regulations.

The FEC auditors' findings have already prompted a separate Justice Department investigation into the legality of the ads.

The commission is divided equally between Democrats and Republicans and can accept, reject or alter the repayment figures.


FEC audit says Clinton, Dole campaigns owe taxpayers millions (11-18-98)

FEC considers soft money ban (11-18-98)

Burton asks FEC to review Democratic funds (10-27-98)

FEC wants Clinton-Gore campaign to repay matching funds (9-4-98)


Federal Election Commission Web site


Thursday, December 3, 1998

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