NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Soliciting Soft Money Prohibited Under New Law

April 29, 2003

The president and members of Congress can headline fund-raisers in which state candidates collect "soft money," but they can't be the ones asking for the big checks, say federal election officials.

The law, which took effect in November, bans federal officeholders and candidates from soliciting soft money, which includes corporate and union contributions of any size and unlimited donations from any source. State and local candidates can continue raising such money if state law allows it.

  • The Federal Election Commission (FEC) said federal officials and candidates can be featured guests at events for state and local candidates at which soft money is raised.
  • However, prospective donors must be given a written or oral disclaimer stating that the federal official isn't soliciting such contributions.

One campaign finance watchdog called it a distinction without a difference. Letting federal officeholders attend state and local candidate soft-money fund-raisers undermines the law's effort to cut ties between federal officials and big donors, said Paul Sanford of the Center for Responsive Politics' FEC Watch project.

"People who attend the fund-raiser aren't going to know the difference," Sanford said.

The commission says Congress never intended to bar federal officials from attending state and local candidate fund-raisers. The law's solicitation ban "burdens the speech and association rights at the core of the First Amendment," Commissioner Bradley Smith said.

Source: Sharon Theimer, "FEC Explains Soft Money Law to Lawmakers," Associated Press, April 24, 2003.


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