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FEC allows candidates to solicit limited contributions for Super PACs

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The Federal Election Commission voted unanimously Thursday to allow federal candidates and party officials to solicit limited contributions for Super PACs, groups that have changed the campaign-finance landscape in the past year by raising and spending unlimited amounts from indivuals, corporations and labor unions.

The draft Advisory Opinion that the commission approved says candidates and party officials can solicit up to $5,000 from individuals and other PACs.

The vote came in response to a request by two Democratic Super PACs -- Majority PAC and House Majority PAC -- which asked the FEC whether candidates could solicit unlimited contributions on their behalf. The plan to have candidates do so was first suggested by campaign-finance lawyer James Bopp Jr., who created Republican Super PAC. At the time, an invitation for a discussion about Bopp's group said it planned to solicit contributions "above the current state and federal contribution and source limits."

The commission was presented with two draft opinions on the request but voted on only one. The other draft would have allowed candidates and party officials to solicit unlimited contributions for Super PACs from any source, including corporations and labor unions.

Rep. Nancy Pelosi and Sens. Harry Reid and John Kerry have already solicited contributions for the Democratic Super PACs. The solicitations have asked for only up to $5,000 in contributions, and only from individuals and other PACs.

On Wednesday, the lawyers from Perkins Coie who represent Majority PAC and House Majority PAC submitted a comment to the FEC expressing their support for the draft that was ultimately approved.

"Unless the Commission provides a clear statement of the law, the entire election cycle could see uncertainty over a core provision of the Federal Election Campaign Act," they wrote. "Those taking an aggressive view would face the threat of enforcement, while those taking a more careful view would face competitive disadvantage. Such a scenario is untenable and would serve neither the statute nor the regulated community."

"In our view," they continued, "Revised Draft A appears to present a viable opportunity for consensus among the commissioners."

Bopp's firm also submitted a comment on the draft advisory opinions. "Draft B, or an AO reaching the same conclusions on the same rationale, is the AO that the Commission should issue," they wrote. "But if the FEC thinks that the law requires a disclaimer such as Senators Reid and Kerry employed, then the Commissioners should issue such an AO."

Also Thursday, the FEC approved a media exemption requested by comedian Stephen Colbert for his proposed Super PAC. At issue was whether any costs incurred by Viacom, Comedy Central's parent company, related to Colbert Super PAC would have to be reported to the FEC.

The commissioners voted unanimously to approve portions of draft Advisory Opinion A, then voted 5-1 to approve amendments to the draft.

Colbert spoke briefly in response to a question about the PAC's advertising plans. "We don't know what we'd do with the ads because we don't have the PAC yet," Colbert said.

The commission's staff set up an overflow room to hold the larger-than-normal crowd at the meeting.