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Friday March 9, 2001

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Common Cause files complaint against Ashcroft

By The Associated Press

WASHINGTON - Groups pushing to reform the way campaigns are financed filed a complaint yesterday against Attorney General John Ashcroft, alleging the former senator's campaign committees violated election law.

At issue is a list of 100,000 potential donors that the political action committee that financed Ashcroft's 1998 presidential exploration gave to his Senate re-election committee, Ashcroft 2000.

In the complaint to the Federal Election Commission, Common Cause and other groups said Ashcroft 2000 raised $116,000 by simply renting the list to other fund-raisers.

The list cost more than $2 million for the presidential PAC, Spirit of America, to develop, the complaint alleges, citing reports to that effect in The Washington Post.

Donation of the list was a "direct and serious" violation of election laws that limit contributions by PACs, asserted Scott Harshbarger, president of Common Cause. Spirit of America had already contributed the maximum $10,000 to Ashcroft's Senate campaign.

"The FEC should fully investigate these matters and impose appropriate sanctions for these violations," Harshbarger said.

Calls to Ashcroft were not immediately returned.

The elections commission can impose civil fines or forward such matters to the Justice Department - which Ashcroft now heads - for criminal investigation.

Joining Common Cause in the complaint were Alliance for Democracy, the National Voting Rights Institute and two Missouri voters, Hedy Epstein and Ben Kjelshus.

The former Missouri Republican senator lost his bid for a second term Nov. 7 to the late Gov. Mel Carnahan, whom voters elected posthumously after he died in a plane crash Oct. 16. His widow, Democratic Sen. Jean Carnahan, was appointed to serve until the next general election, in 2002.