[excerpted from "Proposed 527 Rules Strike Fear in Nonprofits"; from the Feb. 5, 2004, edition of Roll Call]
Several hundred nonprofits spanning the political spectrum are urging the Federal Election Commission to reject a controversial draft advisory opinion on 527 groups, saying it is "overreaching" and could paralyze their ability to communicate with the public on legislative and policy issues.
The draft opinion at the center of the controversy was penned in response to a request from Americans for a Better Country, a Republican 527 group that has proposed raising soft money for issue ads, get-out-the-vote efforts and other political activities in the 2004 election cycle.
FEC officials say the draft opinion regarding ABC - which they will consider at an open meeting today - will likely serve as a crucial building block for any other regulatory efforts aimed toward 527s, and that has many in the nonprofit community worried.
"The real concern we have is while this advisory opinion focuses on the specific request of ABC, the answer is given in terms of redefining the term 'expenditures,' which would apply to any organization," explained Elliot Mincberg, vice president and legal director for People for the American Way, which has helped lead the coalition of nonprofits in fighting the advisory opinion.
"It pretty much eliminates any communication in an election year that is critical or supportive of a president, a sitting Senator, etc., etc.," said Mincberg, who argued that the general counsel's draft opinion would give the FEC a level of power that far exceeds the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002.
Mincberg said several groups that supported BCRA, including the Sierra Club, have signed on to their comments to the FEC.