Common Cause and Brennan Center file comments with FEC regarding 527 advisory opinion

Common Cause and the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law on Tuesday urged the Federal Election Commission to reject an overbroad advisory opinion regarding 527 groups that could significantly expand the scope of political speech subject to regulation by the FEC.

The Brennan Center and Common Cause, both longtime supporters of campaign finance reform and key players in the fight to pass the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act (BCRA), fear that Jan. 29 draft Advisory Opinion 2003-37 could chill the First Amendment rights of activists and non-profit organizations that seek to influence public policy.

In addition, the two groups said the FEC lacks the authority to form new policies and decisions contained in its advisory opinion. “In doing so, the FEC denies the public the opportunity for a full and meaningful discussion either through a formal rulemaking process or a congressional debate,” the groups wrote in the joint statement.

Common Cause and the Brennan Center believe there is legitimate concern that 527s not regulated by the FEC may become conduits for huge soft money donors seeking an indirect way to influence the political process, and their statement to the FEC is by no means an endorsement of 527s. However, the groups believe that the advisory opinion goes far beyond the limited scope that BCRA was meant to address.

“That draft, in its vagueness and overbreadth, may do little to frustrate individuals and groups truly intent on subverting BCRA, while making legitimate issue advocacy groups of all ideological stripes timid and fearful about exercising their First Amendment rights to criticize governments,” the Brennan Center and Common Cause wrote to the FEC. “We care too much about reform to allow BCRA to be interpreted by the FEC in this way.”

Download the statement – (PDF)