WASHINGTON — Federal Election Commission lawyers on Tuesday urged the agency to delay for at least three months imposing any financial restrictions on independent groups that have been raising and spending millions of dollars in this year's presidential race.
Such a move likely would mean the groups could continue their activities through the November elections, despite a law designed to stem the flow of large donations into the political process.
Even if the six-member commission approved fundraising limits for the groups in three months, the regulations would not take effect immediately.
The FEC will vote Thursday on the recommended delay.
The new rules that the commission has been considering would rein in the Media Fund, America Coming Together, the MoveOn.org Voter Fund and other groups opposed to President Bush's policies.
The groups, known as 527s because of the tax code that governs them, have paid for advertisements critical of Bush and launched registration drives that aim to swell the ranks of Democratic-leaning voters. Large checks from wealthy liberals have accounted for much of the groups' money.
The 2002 campaign finance law banned unlimited contributions from individuals, corporations and unions to political parties. But the 527s contend the law does not apply to them, in part because they are not affiliated with a political party.
The Republican National Committee and the Bush campaign filed a complaint in March that alleged the 527s were breaking the law by accepting large contributions.
After two days of FEC hearings last month on proposed regulations, several commissioners said they wanted to delay making a decision.
The agency received 200,000 comments in e-mails, letters, phone calls and faxes, many from members of nonprofit advocacy groups who worried that the rules would curtail their rights to free speech.
The FEC lawyers said Tuesday the agency had not had enough time to analyze the issue. "New rules would potentially affect thousands of organizations," the FEC lawyers wrote. "Careful line-drawing is difficult to do at this pace."
The lawyers urged that the commission take up the matter nonetheless. "It is just as important not to drop the issue as it is to get it right," they said.
Commissioner Michael Toner, a Republican who favors rules that would target 527s, opposes postponing action.
"Delaying a decision is making a decision," he said, because 527s would be able to continue to influence November's vote.