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'Nonpartisan' Swift Boat Ad?

By Terry M. Neal
washingtonpost.com Staff Writer
Friday, August 13, 2004; 7:04 AM

After spinning me heavily a few weeks ago about how Hispanic-targeted ads by the New Democrat Network had moved the needle in favor of Sen. John F. Kerry's presidential bid in key battleground states, NDN president and founder Simon Rosenberg pointed out that NDN's goal is to inform, not influence the presidential election.

You see, despite whatever impact they may have had, the NDN ads that have run in heavy rotation on Spanish-language television and radio in Florida, Nevada, New Mexico and Arizona do not explicitly encourage people to vote for Kerry.

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(In the War for the Hispanic Vote, Education Is the First Battle, May 28, 2004)

This is what is known outside the Beltway as Washington Talk -- and it is now being replicated by groups on the other side of the spectrum who are running ads both accusing Kerry of lying about his war record and mocking his commitment to African Americans.

(Group Runs Anti-Kerry Ads on Black Radio Stations, August 12, 2004).

A proliferation of outside, "independent" groups known as "527's" (named for the section of the tax code that governs their activities), have been pouring millions of dollars into advertising campaigns designed with the obvious purpose of influencing the November elections. Talking Points has written about how NDN and other groups, such as the George Soros-backed Media Fund, have dominated this game made possible by a semantic loophole in the new campaign finance law and the Federal Election Commission's reluctance to do anything about it.

Republicans, after initially expressing outrage over what it saw as a hypocritical shell game being played by the left (remember, Democrats were the primary backers of the effort to reform campaign finance laws), jumped in wholeheartedly after the FEC refused to put the kibosh on such activity at a meeting in May.

Before I go any further, let's discuss, in layman's terms, why the average voter should care. The argument to reform the nation's antiquated campaign finance laws, as presented by people such as Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Russ Feingold (D-Wis.), was that both parties had become beholden to a relatively small group of people who could donate so-called "soft money" in unlimited amounts.

Despite the protests of politicians and party officials that this money did not and could not purchase influence, McCain, Feingold and others argued that it did just that on issues ranging from health care to energy regulation to banking and commerce and military contracting. And the influence that money bought was rarely used to the benefit of Joe Sixpack, who didn't have an army of lobbyists and influence peddlers in Washington working on his behalf.

McCain bucked the majority in his party with his crusade to reform the system. When the Bipartisan Campaign Finance Reform Act of 2002 passed, it did so only because political pressure had forced reluctant GOP leaders to play ball. The reform act eliminated the ability of rich people and corporations to pour unlimited, unrestricted money into the parties.

This year, left-leaning groups, led by Democrats who were McCain-Feingold's backers, decided that the reform bill actually worked to their disadvantage since Republicans were always going to have a deeper pool of people who could offer up the max $2,000 donations for a general election. Jim Jordan, a former top official at the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, who later served as Kerry's campaign manager until he was fired in December, now is at the nexus of the left's effort to exploit the reform loophole. His consulting firm, Thunder Road Group, is serving as the message manager for the Media Fund, America Coming Together and other well-funded groups seeking to influence the November election.

But this week it's another group, Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, that's getting all of the ink with ads accusing Kerry of being a liar and war coward. The ads come as two of the group's leaders, John O'Neill and Jerome Corsi, release their anti-Kerry book, "Unfit for Command," which hits bookstores this month.

Mike Russell, a spokesman for Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, said the ad is legal because it does not tell viewers which candidate they should vote for in the presidential race.

"The ads are not meant to influence the presidential election," Russell said. "The ads are meant to tell the truth about John Kerry's service record so people can make their own decisions."


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