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FEC coordination ruling, due next week, could shake up midterm elections  Mar 31, 2006

A faith-based Philadelphia group at the center of a flap over whether tax-exempt religious groups are aiding the re-election campaign of U.S. Sen Rick Santorum has won more than $250,000 in federal grant money pushed for by Santorum over the last three years. The group, the Urban Family Council - founded by well-known local conservative religious activist William Devlin - also has reaped a $10,000 grant from a controversial charity founded by Santorum, the Operation Good Neighbor Foundation. The news of the financial support linked to Santorum comes just one day after a Washington-based watchdog group - Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, or CREW - sent a letter of complaint to the IRS about the Urban Family Council and three other groups with tax-exempt status. The controversy centers on a training session held earlier this month in Valley Forge by an ad-hoc group calling itself the Pennsylvania Pastors Network, which pushed a church-based get-out-the-vote drive for November. Santorum addressed the group by videotape; he was the only candidate featured.
DNC    $6.2 million raised,   $8.9 million cash on hand
RNC  $10.8 million raised, $40.8 million cash on hand
DSCC $3.8 million raised,  $27.4 million cash on hand
NRSC $5.5 million raised,  $14.5 million cash on hand
 "I will demand that the administration never attempt a backroom deal like this risky fiasco again."  -- Rick Santorum
One of Santorum's failed efforts would have require Senators to pay charter rates for air travel, rather than reimbursing the corporations at lower 1st class travel rates.  Santorum himself was flown around Florida on a Wal-mart corporate jet last year and reimbursed them only 1st class fare, saving his campaign an estimated $15,000. Trent Lott, Chair of the Rules Committee, made sure the amendment did not pass.

Several Democrats voted "no" on the test vote yesterday to protest the GOP majority's refusal to allow amendments, but said they would vote for the bill on final passage. The lawmakers included Minority Leader Harry Reid (D., Nev.) and Sen. Patrick Leahy (D., Vt.), the Judiciary Committee's senior Democrat.  Others still plan to vote against the bill as a whole, but they stand little chance of blocking it. Led by Sens. Russell Feingold (D., Wis.) and Robert C. Byrd (D., W.Va.), they contend that the months of haggling produced few meaningful curbs on government power.

Specter agreed on that point. Even as he urged his colleagues to vote this week for the bill, he introduced a separate bill to make the government meet a higher threshold for warrantless wiretaps and to set a four-year expiration date for the use of National Security Letters - effectively subpoenas - in terrorism investigations.  However appetizing to Specter's colleagues in the Senate, the new bill nevertheless represents items House Republicans flatly rejected during talks last year. House Judiciary Committee Chairman James Sensenbrenner (R., Wis.) has insisted that once the House has approved the renewal and sent it to Bush, his chamber would be done with the issue for the year.  That will be none too soon for some lawmakers. The standoff pushed renewing the law into this midterm election year. Senate leaders were forced to find a procedural way of getting the bill to a vote without losing the support of Sensenbrenner, the Bush administration, and libertarian-leaning lawmakers - all before March 10.  The solution illustrates the razor-thin zone of agreement when it comes to Bush's terror-fighting law.


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