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Jul 26, 2014 10:23 PM by MELINDA DESLATTE

GOP, Democrats unite to seek fundraising changes

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) - Louisiana's Republican and Democratic parties rarely agree, but they've found common ground on an issue that hits both of them in the pocketbooks.

Leaders of the two state parties are aligned in their push to get fundraising rules changed, so the parties can compete with super PACs and other politically active organizations that have fewer limits on the campaign cash they can receive and the way they can spend those dollars.

"By default, it's set up in such a way that it makes it much more difficult for state parties to raise money," said Jason Dore, executive director of the Republican Party of Louisiana.

Dore was sitting at a table with his counterpart at the Louisiana Democratic Party, Stephen Handwerk, who agreed that the fundraising structure "does significantly kneecap us."

Recent court rulings around the country have loosened campaign finance rules for outside organizations that aren't affiliated with the state parties.

For example, super PACs, which operate independently from political parties or candidates they support, can raise unlimited money. The groups can't coordinate spending and strategy with favored candidates, but their messages tend to fall in line with those campaigns.

Political parties have caps on their donations, limits on the types of money they can receive, restrictions on how they can spend and differing rules for state and federal election cycles. In most instances, they have more restrictive reporting requirements as well.

"The way the rules are set up, it encourages big donors to give their dollars elsewhere," Dore said.

Handwerk and Dore said it is important to maintain strong party structures to groom candidates, organize grassroots efforts and collect and share elections data with candidates.

Resolutions passed by governing bodies for both Louisiana's Republican and Democratic parties say current campaign finance laws have stymied their donations, creating "serious financial problems for state and local party committees."

Campaign finance watchdogs say loosening the limits on political parties would give the wealthiest contributors more influence in politics than those who can't afford to cut big checks.

Handwerk and Dore said the state parties want a level playing field, and don't object to maintaining their existing reporting requirements, which they say are more extensive than those of other political groups.

"We don't mind playing by the rules when they're fair," Handwerk said. "I look at these outside groups that are coming in and throwing these hand grenades, and we don't have anybody we can hold accountable for them."

While they agree they want change, the political parties differ in their approaches.

In May, the Republican Party of Louisiana filed a joint lawsuit with the Republican National Committee against the Federal Election Commission. They are seeking the ability to raise unlimited cash from individual donors, to spend like super PACs and help federal candidates with uncoordinated independent expenditures.

The Louisiana Democratic Party hasn't gone to litigation, but is supporting efforts through its national committee to negotiate with the FEC over rule changes that could lift some existing restrictions.

Both are talking with state and congressional lawmakers about possible changes to fundraising laws.

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