Stateline Story

Political Groups Give Big, Escape Regulation

  • July 17, 2003
  • By Jason White
The Democratic Governors Association (DGA) and Republican Governors Association (RGA) are increasingly powerful players in state and local politics, having spent tens of millions of dollars on elections and issue ads during the past three years, according to a new report from the Center for Public Integrity (CPI).

CPI, a non-profit, non-partisan Washington, D.C., research group, studies the role of money and ethics in government.

Its report, Buying Influence, said the DGA spent more than $20 million and the RGA spent nearly $7 million from July 2000 through July 2003, making them among the most active "527 committees." These committees, named for a section of the Internal Revenue Code that defines their tax-exempt status, operate in a loosely regulated area of federal and state campaign finance law.

Experts say 527 committees may grow in influence because they are ideal conduits for the millions of dollars in large donations so-called soft money that had flowed freely to national political parties until Congress banned soft money donations last year. As the effects of this ban reverberate throughout the political sphere, the ability of 527 committees to raise money and influence elections may grow.

"One of the things we're looking at is whether or not [the DGA and the RGA] will become larger and gain a larger profile nationally because of what their fundraising status permits," said Derek Willis, co-author of the report.

The DGA has given $603,000 to Mississippi Gov. Ronnie Musgrove's re-election campaign so far this year, according to the Clarion-Ledger (Jackson). Political power broker Haley Barbour, his likely Republican opponent, received roughly $1 million from the RGA, the newspaper reports.

These totals make the governors committees two of the biggest players in the Mississippi race.

DGA and RGA did not return phone calls seeking comment.

Campaign finance experts say 527 committees are able to raise large amounts of money quickly by soliciting large donations from wealthy individuals or groups. They can spend relatively freely on issue advertisements or donations to candidates for state and local office. They cannot, however, give money to federal candidates.