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FEC opens hearings on 527's

The Bush and Kerry campaigns have already sparred over it. Now the advocacy groups will chime in. And the unions. And the trade associations. And don't forget the watchdogs.

These are the latest voices that will join the campaign finance debate on the future of so-called 527 committees as the Federal Election Commission opens two days of hearings on Wednesday. The committees are among the last avenues for injecting six- and seven-figure contributions into the political system, with hundreds having raised more than $120 million for this year's elections.

Having received more than 100,000 e-mail messages on the subject in recent weeks, the commissioners will now dig into the minutiae of campaign finance law, hearing from 29 witnesses who include some of the country's top campaign finance experts. And while the subject can certainly be tedious -- like how to define a campaign expenditure -- the commission's ruling, expected as soon as May, could have major consequences for American elections, though maybe not in time to affect the 2004 races.

The commission's major decision is whether to allow the 527 groups, named for the section of the tax code that created them, to continue raising and spending unlimited amounts of money or to limit their contributions and place other restrictions on them. -- Political Memo: Latest Big-Money Fight, Over Fund-Raising Groups, Will Be Heard by Election Panel (New York Times)