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02/12/98- Updated 07:49 PM ET

FEC: Soft money ban needs more study

WASHINGTON - The Federal Election Commission sent a proposal to eliminate "soft money" back to its legal department Thursday, raising questions about the government's authority to ban such political donations.

The five-member commission told the lawyers to come up with alternatives to an outright ban.

Soft money - unlimited donations by corporations, unions and wealthy donors - is supposed to be used for party-building activities but not for supporting federal candidates.

"I have no intention of dumping this whole thing," said Joan Aikens, the commission's chairwoman and a Republican. "But I want to see more alternatives in it. I don't think we have the authority to totally ban the national committees from raising soft money."

The FEC also rejected a request to narrow its definition of "express advocacy" so that campaign communications, including advertisements and voter guides, would not be regulated if they did not contain words such as "vote for" or "vote against."

Republicans and Democrats raised a record $262 million in soft money during the past election.

Both parties used the funds to pay for television ads that benefited their congressional and presidential candidates but stopped short of actually telling viewers to vote for or against specific candidates. The parties also funneled millions to state and local party organizations that, in some cases, used the money to benefit federal candidates.

President Clinton and several members of Congress asked the FEC to rule out soft money. The agency's legal department proposed a ban, saying the FEC has the authority to eliminate the donations.

Members of the board disagreed. Among other problems, they said the FEC, which oversees federal campaigns, does not have the power to tell state political organizations how they can spend campaign funds.

Commissioner Lee Ann Elliott, a Republican, said Congress should decide whether to ban soft money. The Senate is to vote early next month on a campaign finance overhaul bill that would kill the donations.

By The Associated Press

Copyright 1998 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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