Democrats also pointed to the involvement in the Swift boat group of Bob Perry, a Houston lawyer and major GOP donor in Texas, who has donated $200,000 to the organization, saying his role showed a connection between the Bush team and the veterans opposing Kerry. Rove called Perry a longtime friend but again denied any connection between Perry's activities and the president's campaign.
"He's a good friend of mine," Rove told Fox News. "I don't want to leave any misimpression. But he's not somebody that I've had, you know, any extended conversation with in years and certainly did not discuss with him or anybody else in the Swift boat leadership what they're doing."
Ginsberg's resignation infuriated conservatives and Republicans, who charged that equally questionable relationships exist between the Kerry campaign and a network of pro-Democratic independent groups.
The Bush-Cheney '04 organization issued a news release citing numerous instances of key figures, other than Bauer and Sandler, who have been involved with the Kerry campaign, the Democratic Party and the independent groups, including:
Harold Ickes, a DNC executive board member, who founded the Media Fund, which has spent more than $25 million on anti-Bush television ads.
Former Kerry campaign manager Jim Jordan, who is now chief spokesman for America Coming Together and the Media Fund.
Zack Exley, who left MoveOn.org -- which has spent millions on anti-Bush ads -- to become online communications director for the Kerry campaign.
Bill Knapp, who produced television commercials for the Media Fund, and has been hired as a media consultant by the Kerry campaign.
"Ben's resignation is an example of a decent public servant who understood the entrenched double standard in the media's examination of the relationship between campaigns and outside interest groups," Mehlman said.
The controversy over the role of the 527 groups has been brewing since mid-2002, when Democratic and GOP strategists began exploring ways to get around the new McCain-Feingold law's ban on unlimited "soft money" contributions from corporations, unions and the wealthy to the political parties.
Both sides created networks of 527s, but Democrats were initially much more successful. They raised money from rich liberals and labor unions while the GOP effort faltered, in part because corporations were reluctant to give to organizations facing legal challenges.
The Bush-Cheney committee and the RNC sought to block the Democratic 527s, filing a formal complaint with the Federal Election Commission. On May 13, when the FEC announced that it would not regulate the 527s in the current election cycle, Republicans renewed their efforts to raise money for their 527s and, in recent weeks, have been very successful.
Republicans, who complained for months about the attacks from the Democratic 527s, have begun to respond with negative ads. The Swift boat group has spent about $1.2 million on its ads, according to the Kerry campaign, compared with about $60 million spent by Democratic 527s. But with that small investment, the anti-Kerry group has been able to dominate the campaign debate for the past two weeks.
Another group, which Ginsberg also represents, has raised at least $14 million. Officials of Progress for America Voter Fund said that among the major donors to the group are two Californians, Alex Spanos and Dawn Arnall, both major fundraisers for the Bush campaign and the RNC. Each has given $5 million to the new group.