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WASHINGTON — The Federal Election Commission on Thursday denied Sen. Mike Lee's petition to allow his political action committee to create a segregated account able to accept unlimited contributions.
The Utah Republican sought to enhance his ability to help like-minded conservatives get elected by allowing unlimited donations to a fund created for that purpose. His Constitutional Conservatives Fund PAC currently can accept donations no greater than $5,000 from individuals, corporations and unions.
"It's a head scratcher," said Lee spokesman Brian Phillips. The senator, he said, wanted the same rights as other PACs.
Courts ruled the past year that individuals, corporations and unions have a right to make unlimited contributions to influence elections. The FEC implemented the rulings by allowing the formation of super PACs, which can accept unlimited funds from unlimited sources. The FEC did not specifically include lawmakers' leadership PACs.
Lee would have been the first politician in the country to have his own super PAC. Federal law does not allow him to spend "soft money" on his own campaign, but it can be used to help elect or defeat candidates in other races. He argued that as long as the PAC maintains segregated accounts, it should be able to accept unlimited funds.
The proposal went too far for even the most conservative FEC commissioner, according to the Huffington Post.
"Your argument essentially does away with contribution limits," said Commissioner Donald McGahn, an outspoken conservative opposed to most campaign finance laws. "It's well beyond what we do here and well beyond what I do here, which is saying something."
McGahn said he likely agrees that the government should not discriminate when applying regulations on independent expenditures, but that the statute and regulations clearly limit contributions to members of Congress to protect against corruption or the appearance of corruption.
Phillips said under Lee's proposal, there would be more transparency and accountability because the public would be able to see where the money is coming from.
Lee has not decided whether to challenge the unanimous FEC ruling, Phillips said.