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Wife of Convicted GOP Official Hired by Chafee Campaign

By David A. Fahrenthold and Zachary A. Goldfarb
Sunday, August 6, 2006

Interesting fact: In its latest filing to the Federal Election Commission, the campaign of Sen. Lincoln D. Chafee (R-R.I.) lists $386,000 in payments for "consulting services" to a firm called Northeast Strategies LLC, listed on Kenduskeag Avenue in Bangor, Maine.

Tantalizing fact: The same Kenduskeag Avenue address is home to James Tobin, a former regional official of the Republican National Committee.

Eyebrow-raising fact: James Tobin was found guilty last year of criminally violating federal elections law, having participated in a scheme by New Hampshire Republicans to jam Democratic get-out-the-vote phone lines on Election Day 2002.

What does this all add up to? Well, not what you're thinking, according to Chafee's campaign.

Campaign manager Ian Lang said that Tobin has no role in the company or the Chafee campaign. Instead, he said, Northeast Strategies is made up of Tobin's wife, Ellen, and a political consultant, Kathie Summers.

James Tobin -- who is appealing his December 2005 conviction -- "is not involved at all," Lang said. He said that the money pays for mailings, phone calls and staff, in addition to Summers's expertise.

Summers confirmed Lang's account on Friday. She said that she had worked on campaigns all over New England and that her company was built on her expertise in targeting and reaching nonaffiliated voters.

"It's messaging the independent voter," Summers said.

She said she spends three days a week in Rhode Island, and Ellen Tobin -- a friend whom she recruited to her company during a ski trip -- handles bookkeeping and administrative duties.

"There's no connection with Jim," Summers said. "I mean, I love Jim, but he's not involved in the company."

James Tobin was sentenced to 10 months in jail for his role in the phone-jamming scheme, which helped Sen. John E. Sununu (R) win a tight race against Democrat Jeanne Shaheen. Phone records show that Tobin called the White House more than 20 times after the scheme began -- conversations that Democrats are seeking to learn more about in a civil lawsuit. The Republican National Committee has spent $3 million in legal fees in criminal and civil cases growing out of the controversy.

Lawmakers Get Extra Credit

Late last month, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce began broadcasting television ads that extolled several Republican lawmakers for supporting the new Medicare prescription drug program. The spots were part of the chamber's $10 million midterm advertising and voter mobilization budget.

But two of those lawmakers weren't in Congress when the program passed. Another opposed the measure.

The chamber has now altered two of those ads -- for freshman Reps. Michael E. Sodrel (Ind.) and Michael G. Fitzpatrick (Pa.) -- and pulled the third, which got the vote of Rep. Steve Chabot (Ohio) wrong.

All three lawmakers are in competitive races this year. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee seized on the ads, writing letters and calling the TV stations playing them.

The original ads praised the lawmakers, who "supported the Medicare Part D law giving seniors a quality drug plan." That was the same language used for other lawmakers who did, in fact, vote for the law's passage. In the new ads, the word "supports" is used in place of "supported."

Bill Miller, the chamber's political director, said, "If I were to go back in time, I would not have changed the ad one piece. Factually, they didn't change. . . . The change was made for clarity's sake."

He added, "The DCCC believed they could tweak us over it by sending out a press release that was disingenuous."

"This is a show of spectacular incompetence on the part of the chamber," DCCC spokesman Bill Burton said. "They should be thanking us for helping them make more ads more accurate."

FEC to Vote on Issue-Ad Exemption

The Federal Election Commission plans to vote this month on a proposal that would allow lobbying groups to air television and radio commercials about issues pending before Congress right up until Election Day.

The plan would create an exemption in the four-year-old McCain-Feingold campaign finance law, which prohibits any broadcast advertisements that mention a candidate for federal office within 60 days of a general election.

The measure pending before the commission would allow grass-roots organizations to use corporate or labor funds to pay for ads within that 60-day period as long as the commercials discuss a live issue in Washington and do not promote or attack a candidate, among other limits.

"It will protect the ability of interest groups across the political spectrum to be heard on issues of national importance without running afoul of campaign finance laws," said FEC Chairman Michael Toner. The vote is scheduled for Aug. 29.

A wide range of lobbying groups, from the AFL-CIO to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, has sought an exemption from the rule. But some government watchdog groups oppose the measure.

Staff writer Jeffrey H. Birnbaum contributed to this report.

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