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Raese continues to fight campaign finance limits

CHARLESTON, W.Va. - Republican U.S. Senate candidate John Raese lost the election but continues to fight a campaign finance law that cost his $1.2 million campaign $2,500.

Raese, a tea party group and an unsuccessful U.S. House candidate in Massachusetts are all suing the federal government.

Their goal is to loosen, ever so slightly, a law to limit how much newly created political action committees can give to candidates' campaigns.

Right now, certain PACs can give $5,000 to candidates if the PACs do all of three things: receive donations from more than 50 people, give to at least five candidates and exist for at least six months.

The Tea Party Leadership Fund wanted to give Raese and Massachusetts 4th District Republican candidate Sean Bietlat $5,000 for the general election. But the fund had been around for only five months and so was limited to making a $2,500 donation.

Even if Raese, Bielat and the fund win the case, the victory will be somewhat pointless for the three plaintiffs: the two Republicans' campaigns are over, and the fund was already six months old just days after the Nov. 6 election.

But the group's attorney, Stephen Hoersting of D.C.-based DB Capitol Strategies, said the goal was to let future PACs give $5,000 even if they existed for fewer than six months.

The case, which is filed against the Federal Election Commission, is sitting in U.S. District Court in Washington. 

Even if the tea party fund wins, the decision won't be "earth shattering," said Paul S. Ryan, a lawyer at The Campaign Legal Center, a public interest law firm in Washington.

The center filed a brief with the FEC to tell the commission it should follow the law that is already on the books. The FEC did. Then Raese, Bielat and the tea party fund sued the FEC in federal court.

Ryan said the case is "pretty small potatoes" compared to Super PACs, which can accept unlimited donations and spend unlimited amounts of money to air election ads but cannot give money directly to individual candidates. So far, Super PACs have reported spending more than $680 million in the 2012 election cycle, according the Center for Responsive Politics.

By contrast, the Tea Party Leadership Fund is a so-called "hybrid PAC," which can raise and spend unlimited amounts of money on election ads, but can also keep a separate account to accept and donate limited amounts of money to individual candidates.

Hoersting specializes in challenging campaign finance laws and said he helped create the modern Super PAC.

Hoersting said the six-month waiting period for PACs like the Tea Party Leadership Fund is "meaningless." He said the restriction was created several decades ago to prevent one individual from setting PACs and making all the different PAC money flow to the same candidates' campaign. He said new laws have been put in place to prevent such orchestrated efforts.

For him, the main question in the tea party fund case is, "Does a newly formed organization that has about 4,000 people that has given to it have the same rights as an entrenched organization?"

The Tea Party Leadership Fund raised $482,429, nearly all of it from small donors, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

The fund spent $384,434. Of that, $20,000 went to individual campaigns, all of them Republican. They included Raese, who lost; Bielat, who lost; Rep. Allen West, R-Fla., who lost; Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., who won; and Richard Mourdock, who lost a bid for House in Indiana.

The case is not Raese's only encounter with the FEC. In December 2007, Raese and his campaign agreed to pay a $74,500 fine for failing to comply with the so-called "Millionaire's Amendment," which required candidates to file disclosure reports if they spend significant personal funds on their own campaigns.

Raese, a Morgantown businessman, has largely self-funded unsuccessful campaigns for public office, including Senate campaigns in 2006, 2010 and 2012.

In June 2008, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the Millionaire's Amendment.

Contact writer Ry Rivard at or 304-348-1796. Follow him at www.twitter. com/ryrivard.



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