Republicans vow to pass limits on 527s

House Republicans yesterday sent a message to Democrats insistent on keeping restrictions on 527 groups out of the chamber’s lobbying reform bill.

Five GOP members, led by Chief Deputy Whip Eric Cantor (R-Va.), declared they would use every opportunity to seek a crackdown on the 527s’ potent political power.

Cantor said that Republicans want to rein in the hundreds of millions of dollars in unregulated donations flowing to 527s and that they will do so “whether as part of a larger reform package or as a stand-alone.”

“If the state of the law is that there is no soft money in politics, it ought to be that way for the average American as well as the wealthy American,” he said.

The groups are named after Section 527 of the tax code, which permits them to accept unlimited donations for the purpose of influencing federal elections.

Wealthy Democratic donors have poured more cash into 527s than Republicans since the groups first sprang up after 2002’s McCain-Feingold campaign-finance law, sparking complaints from many Democrats that the GOP is pushing for stronger 527 regulations to serve its political purposes.

But the five House Republicans mounting yesterday’s renewed 527 push challenged Democrats to support restricting the groups or risk being branded as dishonest for their support of campaign-finance reform.

“If people don’t vote to eliminate these entities, it’s hypocritical. You can’t be for McCain-Feingold but for these entities as they are,” said Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.).

Jennifer Crider, spokeswoman for House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), said Democrats welcome a debate on campaign-finance reform that is not mingled with lobbying and ethics legislation.

“If you want to do campaign-finance reform, do campaign-finance reform,” Crider said. “But that doesn’t substitute for the need for what Democrats have proposed, which is real lobbying reform that would end the Republican culture of corruption.”

House Rules Committee Chairman David Dreier (R-Calif.) included new limits on 527s in the lobbying reform bill he introduced just before last week’s recess, though it remains unclear when the bill would reach the floor.

The Senate, however, remains a question mark, as Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) has not decided whether to press his proposed amendment to the lobbying reform package that was in line for a final vote as quickly as last night.

McCain’s amendment, which was introduced just before the Senate temporarily scuttled its consideration of lobbying reform, would restrict individual contributions to 527s to $25,000 per year, similar to the caps Dreier’s bill would impose.

“It’s not off the table, not off the table,” McCain said yesterday when asked whether he would consider withdrawing his amendment.

Cantor and Cole, along with Reps. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.), Patrick McHenry (R-N.C.) and Tom Price (R-Ga.), paired yesterday’s push with a letter to Mark Everson, commissioner of the Internal Revenue Service, citing an August report from the Treasury Department’s tax inspector general that found 527 groups have avoided tax bills totaling $9.4 million.

The five Republicans did not address the specifics of their desired 527-donation caps, focusing on heightened reporting requirements for the groups. Unlike 501(c)s, 527s must report donors’ identities and contribution amounts.

“527s should at least have transparency and disclosure,” McHenry said. While 501(c) nonprofit groups have also fielded charges of improper involvement in the political process, he said, “instead of eating the apple, we’re trying to take a bite of the apple.”

Crider noted that McHenry signed on to a letter sent earlier this month to House GOP leaders by members of the conservative Republican Study Committee (RSC), asking for any stronger 527 limits to be paired with relaxed rules in other areas of campaign-finance law.

“Now I’m thoroughly confused about what he thinks,” Crider said.