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Election Commission Pleads For Extra Funds

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Separately, Senate panel's $6.5 million campaign investigation request draws filibuster threat

WASHINGTON (AllPolitics, Jan. 31) -- The Federal Election Commission on Thursday asked a congressional panel for an additional $6.6 million so it can more aggressively look into campaign finance abuses.

The commission's leaders cited the large numbers of complaints stemming from the 1996 elections, including "several allegations of violations of unparalleled scale."

FEC Commissioner Joan D. Aikens told the Senate Rules and Administration Committee that the agency was so mired in the routine paperwork generated by an election season that its staff has had hardly any opportunity to work on the complaints.

Campaign finance is in the spotlight, but the FEC, the government's primary mechanism for campaign law enforcement, has long been thought of as a "paper tiger" with inadequate budget and legal authority to keep candidates and parties in compliance with its rules.

The agency asked to have $1.7 million added to its $281.6 million budget for the fiscal year ending this Sept. 30, and $4.9 million for the following fiscal year.

Meanwhile, the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee on Thursday voted along party lines to ask the Rules Committee for $6.5 million to investigate alleged campaign finance violations.

But the size of that budget, comparable to that of the Senate Watergate Committee, is drawing a filibuster threat. Senate Democratic Leader Tom Daschle of South Dakota said Republicans don't have the 60 votes they would need to shut down a filibuster.

Governmental Affairs also asked for $4.6 million to fund the rest of its operations. The Senate Rules Committee will bundle these requests, along with the rest of the chamber's committee budget requests, and present them as one item for the Senate to approve within the next few weeks.

The committee voted 9-4 for the $6.5 million request, with three additional proxy votes from absent Democrats not counting. The committee also rejected an alternative Democratic proposal to spend $1.8 million on the probe, with an option to increase the amount later.

In a move that pleased committee Democrats, however, the panel voted to expand the inquiry's scope to include misuse of tax-exempt groups for political purposes, the effect of "soft money" on elections and the practice of exchanging access to the president for political contributions.

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