The veterans group's advertisements casting doubt on Kerry's Vietnam War decorations have turned the senator's earning of a Silver Star, a Bronze Star and three Purple Hearts during four months of duty in Vietnam into a dominant election issue this month. The Kerry campaign has filed a complaint with the Federal Election Commission charging illegal coordination between the Bush campaign and the group.
The 527s are nonprofit political groups named for a section of the tax code that covers them. They may raise and spend unlimited amounts of unregulated, or "soft," money from individuals, businesses and unions to run issue ads in federal elections. But the law prohibits 527 groups from coordinating their activities with individual political campaigns or political parties.
Bush on Monday said he was opposed to all advertising by 527 groups -- most of which has favored Kerry -- but would not specifically condemn the Swift boat veterans' advertisements.
In a letter Monday to the Federal Election Commission, Tom Josefiak, general counsel to the Bush-Cheney campaign, said Kerry's complaint is "frivolous" and "baselessly alleging illegal coordination" between the two groups. Josefiak said the "complaint should be promptly dismissed." The campaign also contacted stations that might air a Kerry ad alleging a smear to warn of possible libel.
The Kerry campaign jumped on Ginsberg's admission Tuesday night. "If the Bush campaign truly disapproved of this smear, their top lawyer wouldn't be involved with the Swift boat veterans group," said Kerry campaign spokesman Chad Clanton.
Ginsberg said Wednesday that a group of "decorated Vietnam War veterans came to me and said, 'We have an important point to get out in the debate under the First Amendment, the American right of free expression. . . . Help us,' they said, and I did."
He said he did not participate in strategy planning or in the development of messages, and did not discuss Bush campaign activities with the Swift boat veterans, or vice versa.
Democrats also said their allegation of collusion was supported by a flier at a Bush-Cheney office in Florida promoting a Swift boat event, and by close relationships in the past between backers of the veterans group and Bush aides such as political adviser Karl Rove.
Don Simon, an election-law expert with the campaign finance watchdog group Democracy 21, said Ginsberg's dual role "is not per se coordination" between the Bush campaign and the veterans group. That would occur only if Ginsberg has been transferring information between the two -- a question that likely would not be resolved before the election even if the FEC chooses to investigate the matter. But, Simon said that "as a matter of common sense, it certainly raises questions."
Larry Noble, who runs the Center for Responsive Politics watchdog group, said the Ginsberg situation is not by itself improper, but "when you're looking at common lawyers, it adds another level to it."
Edsall reported from Washington.