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FEC sues pro-GOP group over finance limits

WASHINGTON -- Federal election officials sued a political group yesterday to try to force it to comply with campaign finance limits, the first lawsuit of its kind to arise from controversial big-money fund-raising during the 2004 elections.

The Federal Election Commission filed a complaint in US District Court in Washington against the Club for Growth. The pro-GOP group spent at least $21 million in the 2003-04 election cycle.

The FEC contends the Club spent enough in federal races to require it to file with the commission as a political committee and abide by contribution and spending limits. It wants the court to fine the group and to order it to comply with campaign finance rules.

Club for Growth President Pat Toomey called the FEC lawsuit ''a bizarre interpretation of the Club's mission, the Constitution, the laws adopted by Congress, and their own regulations governing nonprofit organizations."

''The Club's principal purpose is to advocate for and defend pro-growth policies," Toomey said in a statement. ''We have consulted with counsel every step of the way and have followed the law and regulations that govern our work."

FEC vice chairman Michael Toner called the case ''one of the most important suits the commission has brought in recent years."

The lawsuit is the first to result from several complaints filed against pro-Republican and pro-Democratic ''soft money groups," and could serve as a test case to see if the commission can rein in the groups without new congressional legislation or FEC rules.

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