A huge wave of restrictive elections laws and rules are hitting state and local Democratic and Republican parties so hard that many are closing up shop, giving way to outside groups protected by the courts, top officials are warning.

At an unusual meeting called by the Federal Election Commission, several Democratic and Republican officials begged the FEC to give them some regulatory and fundraising leeway or they will cease to exist.

“County parties are dead,” said Scott Arceneaux, executive director of the Florida Democratic Party. And now “the deadening of the roots has come up to us,” he added, warning that the Democratic National Committee and RNC “are next.”

Said RNC counsel John R. Phillippe Jr., “Political parties have never had it worse.”

At issue is a trail of laws starting with the 2002 McCain-Feingold law limiting money in politics and that have essentially "federalized" state and local parties. Officials said that the result is that donations and volunteers are being chased away from organized parties and out of the process, letting well-funded and tightly-controlled outside groups take over.

FEC Chairman Lee E. Goodman, a former Virginia GOP official, said he is eager to help save political parties as a way to get Americans more engaged with politics.

“I think that the political parties are the most democratic institutions that we have in America today,” he told Secrets. “And they have been virtually wiped out of the political process by regulation, not because there’s not an appetite, not because they are losing market share, but because they have been regulated out of the process,” he added.

Newly released FEC fundraising money shows that outside groups raised twice the $440 million collected by political parties last year.

About a dozen party officials from around the country complained that they can’t afford to comply with nit-picky federal laws and regulations and can’t compete with fundraising by outside groups because they face low contribution limits the groups don’t.

“It’s all about money,” said Arceneaux, and without it, state and local parties that often operate on little can keep the doors open.

“Both of our hands are tied behind our back,” said Oklahoma Democratic Party Executive Director Trav Robertson.

Some of the commissioners said that they are willing to look at easing rules. Steven T. Walther said he was concerned that the parties can’t compete with outside groups and Ellen L. Weintraub said that “we need to be doing what we can to empower grassroots activity.”

Paul Bedard, the Washington Examiner's "Washington Secrets" columnist, can be contacted at pbedard@washingtonexaminer.com.