Is the era of the millionaire-backed attack group coming to an end?
The Federal Election Commission hit the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth with a $299,500 fine today for playing too fast with election rules. The Swift Boat Vets were a "527" organization, which has no limits on contributions, but were acting like federal political committees, the FEC charged. 527s are allowed to work for or against certain candidates, but if they have no other "major purpose," according to FEC spokesman Bob Biersack, then they should register as a committee.
That's a huge difference. Committees can only accept $5,000 in contributions per person per year. The Swift Boat Vets, by comparison, accepted $4.4 million from GOP money man Bob Perry in 2004. Perry played the same trick in this year's election, throwing $9 million at three different 527 attack groups, which used it to target dozens of Democratic congressional candidates all over the country. Democrats have also taken advantage of 527s, and two liberal groups were fined today: MoveOn and the League of Conservation Voters.
If the FEC were to really crack down on this sort of thing (the 527 loophole has been an open secret for a number of years), as they've idly been threatening to do, then 2008 would be a remarkably different election than the past two cycles.
Update: I talked to David Donnelly, the director of Campaign Money Watch, who knows a lot about this sort of thing, and he said that these fines (and the ones rumored to follow soon), probably will have a significant deterring effect in the '08 elections.