Lee wants to push campaign finance law limits, create super PAC

Published: Wednesday, Oct. 26 2011 2:06 p.m. MDT

SALT LAKE CITY — Sen. Mike Lee wants to enhance his ability to help like-minded conservatives get elected by allowing unlimited donations to a fund he created for that purpose.

The Utah Republican filed a request with the Federal Election Commission to allow his Constitutional Conservatives Fund PAC to form a segregated account able accept unlimited contributions. That fund, known as a leadership PAC, currently can accept donations no greater than $5,000 from individuals, corporations and unions.

"The senator just wants the same rights as other PACs enjoy," said Dan Hauser, Lee's political director. "It's just leveling the playing field."

Courts ruled the past year that individuals, corporations and unions have a right to make unlimited contributions to influence elections. The FEC implemented the rulings by allowing the formation of super PACs, which can accept unlimited funds from unlimited sources. The FEC did not specifically include lawmakers' leadership PACs.

Lee would be the first politician in the country to have his own super PAC. Federal law does not allow him to spend "soft money" on his own campaign, but it can be used to help elect or defeat candidates in other races.

"The Constitution simply does not permit the government to suppress free speech by restricting the right to make contributions for independent expenditures," Dan Backer, Lee's leadership PAC attorney, wrote in his FEC request for advisory opinion.

Fred Wertheimer, president of Democracy 21, called Lee's request a "brazen effort" to get around federal campaign finance law, which he said clearly prohibits leadership PACs belonging to members of Congress from soliciting unlimited contributions. Democracy 21, based in Washington, D.C., promotes campaign finance reform that eliminates big money influence in politics.

"The advisory opinion request from Sen. Lee is a classic example of the 'throw everything you can think of against the wall and see what sticks' current approach to efforts to evade and circumvent the campaign finance laws," he said.

Lee spokesman Brian Phillips said that is not the case. The senator, he said, wants his PAC treated like any other PAC. "If these other PACs can do it, why can't the leadership PAC do it?"

Backer argued in the request that as long as the PAC maintains segregated accounts, it should be able to accept unlimited funds.

E-mail: romboy@desnews.com Twitter: dennisromboy

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