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FYI: Wednesday marked the first day of a ban on “soft money” contributions in federal elections. Election laws already strictly regulated direct donations to candidates, but left open a loophole for unlimited donations to political parties. The new rules bar national parties from either raising or spending these unchecked funds on federal campaigns. Common Cause, which championed the change, says the parties went out with a bang by spending a record setting $500 million in soft money this election cycle. And that’s even without the benefit of a New York Senate race. [11/8/02]