The National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC) has vowed to watch every dollar the Dukakis-Bentsen campaign spends in Texas and to file a complaint with the Federal Election Commission ``every time they take a breath'' that seems to violate federal campaign laws. This was the GOP counterpunch to a decision by the FEC this week to release $46.1 million in public funds to the Dukakis-Bentsen campaign. The NRSC and Rep. Beau Boulter, the Republican candidate for Lloyd Bentsen Jr.'s Senate seat, had petitioned the FEC to block the funds. They argued that Mr. Bentsen's simultaneous campaigns for the vice-presidency and the Senate conflicts with the campaign-finance statute.
The GOP argument was knocked out in a 6-0 FEC decision.
The NRSC believes it is impossible for the Bentsen campaign to comply with the law requiring that personnel and money earmarked for the Senate race be segregated from the vice-presidential contest.
Senator Bentsen has raised about $8 million in private donations for his Senate race. This money cannot be applied to his vice-presidential bid, which is publicly funded. But Jann Olsten, NRSC executive director, says Bentsen is ``getting a double bang for his buck in Texas.''
The FEC says that, at least for now, it must take the word of Bentsen and Democratic presidential nominee Michael Dukakis that they intend to keep the campaign funds separate and abide by the federal election-spending law.
FEC chairman Thomas Josefiak said the commission would have to examine allegations of impropriety on a ``case-by-case basis.'' As he issued the ruling, the chairman said he was ``sure the commission hadn't heard the last of this.''
He was right. The NRSC has already sought an injunction in a US court of appeals that would stop the transfer of the federal funds. Failing this, says NRSC spokesman Tom Mason, ``it will be worth it'' to pursue case by case complaints against the Democratic ticket.
Mr. Olsten says he ``was not surprised'' but was ``disappointed'' by the FEC ruling. The Bentsen senatorial campaign is not required to file a quarterly report with the FEC until October. ``By that time the cow will be out of the barn,'' Olsten says.
This is not the first time the FEC has released campaign funds in the face of legal challenges.
In 1980 the Carter-Mondale Reelection Committee filed a complaint with the FEC requesting that it not certify funding for the Reagan-Bush campaign. The commission ruled, however, that the Republican campaign had satisfied the eligibility requirements.
In 1984, the FEC also considered a telegram from the campaign of Lyndon LaRouche requesting that it suspend payment of public funds to the Mondale-Ferraro Committee. But the commission ruled that Walter Mondale and Geraldine Ferraro had met the requirements for funding.
Also in 1984, the FEC received a complaint filed by the National Conservative Political Action Committee (NCPAC) requesting an audit and investigation of the Mondale campaign along with the withholding of public funds. Once again, the commission denied the request.