WASHINGTON – The Federal Election Commission on Wednesday slapped heavy fines on three independent fundraising groups it said had illegally injected tens of millions of dollars into the 2004 presidential campaign, concluding unanimously that the funds were drawn from large donors and corporations in violation of election laws.
The fines, which totaled $629,500, targeted two Democratic-leaning groups and one Republican-leaning group, and raised new questions about the viability of using such “527” organizations as an indirect conduit for big-money donations meant to promote or undermine federal candidates.
The use of 527 groups by big donors exploded in 2004, two years after a new campaign finance law shut off other venues. More than $950 million was funneled through 527 groups in the 2004 and 2006 elections, much of it from wealthy donors and corporations otherwise barred from having such a large financial impact.
FEC Vice Chairman Robert Lenhard said in a statement that the fines – levied against Swiftboat Veterans and POWs for Truth, MoveOn.org’s Voter Fund, and a League of Conservation Voters fund – demonstrated that the commission is prepared “to regulate election activity more aggressively than it has in the past.”