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Hastert and Santorum to appear at Leadership Forum events

House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) and Senate Republican Conference Chairman Rick Santorum (R-Pa.) have agreed to participate in events this summer for the Leadership Forum, a GOP-allied 527 group.

By doing so, Hastert and Santorum will place their imprimaturs on the group, reassuring donors that it is a legitimate fundraising venture.

Their support will give the Leadership Forum a leg up in a competition among emerging Republican-leaning groups, making it likely to become the main soft-money vehicle for congressional Republicans.

However, the announcement that Hastert and Santorum will affiliate themselves with the soft-money group already has generated controversy among campaign-finance-reform organizations, which say that the lawmakers are walking a fine legal line. They note that under the new campaign-finance law known as McCain-Feingold, federal lawmakers are not allowed to solicit soft money. Such funds are largely unregulated and may be raised in unlimited amounts.

However, Susan Hirschmann, Majority Leader Tom DeLay's (R-Texas) former chief of staff, who is heading the group with former Rep. Bill Paxon (R-N.Y.), said Hastert and Santorum will only appear at Leadership Forum events and will not raise soft money. -- Leaders back Republican 527 (The Hill.com)