Opponents of millionaire mayoral candidate Tom Knox have formed a political committee to collect contributions beyond the city campaign-finance limits to fund attacks on Knox's record.

Attorney Alex Talmadge said last night that he's registered an organization, called the Economic Justice Coalition for Truth, with the Internal Revenue Service as a so-called 527 group, named for a provision in the tax code used by groups active in the 2004 presidential race.

Talmadge said he will also register the group with the state as a political-action committee.

"It's our intent to raise enough money to get television ads on before the election to raise issues people don't know about Knox," Talmadge said, "including his payday lending at Crusader Bank."

Talmadge and the organization's president, Rev. Robert Shine, held a news conference earlier this month to call attention to Knox's involvement in the late '90s with high-interest payday, or cash-advance, lending, a practice widely condemned by consumer groups.

Because Knox's campaign is funded from his own personal fortune, he's been able to dramatically outspend candidates bound by contribution limits.

The key to fighting him, opponents have concluded, is forming a committee not associated with any candidate.

While the city campaign-finance law limits contributions to mayoral candidates, it doesn't restrict the activities of independent political committees.

"We'll raise whatever we can get," Talmadge said.

But Talmadge's role in the committee might pose a problem.

The city's campaign-finance law says a candidate can have only one committee, and Talmadge appeared at a forum last month as a surrogate for mayoral candidate U.S. Rep. Bob Brady.

If Talmadge was regarded as an agent of the Brady campaign, the formation of the new group could be seen as a violation of the law by Brady.

Both Talmadge and the Brady campaign said they have no connection, but Knox campaign manager Josh Morrow saw it differently yesterday.

"If the treasurer of this thing was a surrogate for Bob Brady, how is it independent?" Morrow said. "It's illegal from the get-go.

"They're clearly threatened by Tom's candidacy, because they know he'll dismantle the political machine that has run this city for so long," Morrow said.

Knox has steadily built a lead in polls with his heavy television advertising, and candidates have begun attacking him in debates and public statements over the past week.

Because Knox is spending his own money, the city limits on contributions don't apply.

Talmadge declined to say how much money his group has raised, or who any of its contributors are. *