Why the Bucks Don't Stop Here

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Don't make a federal case out of it. That's essentially what the Federal Election Commission told its own auditors today, when the commissioners unanimously refused to order the presidential campaigns of Bill Clinton and Bob Dole to repay millions of dollars used to buy general party ads. The auditors had asked that the Clinton organization repay $7 million and the Dole organization $17.7 million for exceeding campaign spending limits.

"The commissioners apparently had in mind a more realistic view of what would be upheld in the courts, " explains Washington correspondent Viveca Novak. "Repeatedly, the courts have rejected the view that general ads violate campaign laws unless the ads explicitly use magic words like 'Elect so-and-so.'" The First Amendment right of free speech has weighed heavily upon the courts in "soft money" cases, and judges have been reluctant to stop parties and interest groups from funding general campaign ads unless they clearly stepped over the line. The vagueness of the law and the courts' reluctance to step in are why the checks for campaign 2000 are already in the mail.