Polluting the Airwaves
Tuesday, November 13, 2007; 10:41 AM
During the 2000 campaign, a Texas investment banker with ties to George W. Bush began bankrolling TV ads accusing John McCain of opposing efforts to clean up air pollution.
The spots, under the rubric Republicans for Clean Air, were put together by Sam Wyly and his brother, a Bush fundraiser. And McCain wasn't shy about pouncing on this information.
"Are we going to allow two cronies of George Bush to hijack the election?" he asked, accusing the pair of "perverting the political process" by using "dirty money."
Seven years later, McCain is embroiled in another controversy involving a so-called 527 group -- only this time, he's the beneficiary. Worse, the commercial was produced by Rick Reed, one of the creators of the Swift Boat ads against John Kerry that McCain denounced as unfair.
Is McCain now singing a different tune? The answer is no. He's calling for the ads to be yanked, saying: "I will not win this election, nor would I want to win it, by acquiescing in anyone's attempt to put my campaign before my principles."
Here's the back story, in the New York Times:
"The so-called Wounded Warriors Act, legislation intended to improve health care for veterans, has attracted nearly unanimous, bipartisan support in Congress. So why would the newly formed Foundation for a Secure and Prosperous America begin running a television commercial urging the citizens of South Carolina to tell Congress to pass it?
"The answer lies in the commercial's glowing images of Senator John McCain, the Arizona Republican banking on a South Carolina victory to jump-start his cash-poor Republican primary campaign. The group that paid for the advertisement operates independently of Mr. McCain's campaign, but was set up and financed by his supporters seeking to help him as much as possible up to the limits of the law . . .
"Mr. McCain immediately called on the group to cease its activities when its existence was first reported, by The Associated Press, on Friday. Mr. McCain said on Fox News Sunday that he had not spoken to Mr. Reed to ask him to do so directly."
Is this merely the first trickle in a deluge of 527 ads? Time's Mark Halperin ponders the question:
"John McCain disavowed this positive ad run on his behalf, but when will a shadowy group run a negative spot against a candidate? Strategists for all the major campaigns have said for several weeks that they expect there to be tens of millions of dollars spent in Iowa and other early voting states by various 527s and other interest groups on ads attacking just about everyone. . . . The airwaves are going to be packed with positive ads for and by the candidates themselves, making buying time that much more complicated.
"And who, exactly, would donate to these groups? Liberals who want to stop Hillary Clinton? Conservatives who want to stop Hillary Clinton? FOBs and FOHs who want to help Hillary Clinton? Wealthy religious conservatives who want to stop Rudy Giuliani? (Insert your own Dennis Kucinich or Mitt Romney joke here.) Maybe the biggest question of all, though, is this: Is the still-influential Old Media ready to scrutinize the content and sources of these ads, or will things move way too fast for that?"