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RNC Steered More Than $1 Million to Outside Groups (Washington Post, Oct. 23)

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Democrats Ask ABC to Release 1996 Dole Tape

By Howard Kurtz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, October 23, 1997; Page A18

The White House tried to fight videotape with videotape yesterday, seizing on a 1996 Ted Koppel interview with former senator Robert J. Dole (R-Kan.) in an effort to blunt criticism of President Clinton for using Democratic Party television ads to aid his reelection.

Administration officials called on ABC News to release footage of the interview in which Dole, then the presumptive GOP presidential nominee, acknowledged that the Republican National Committee was financing ads that would help his campaign. In case anyone missed the point, White House special counsel Lanny J. Davis handed out transcripts at yesterday's hearings into campaign fund-raising by the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee.

Dole was speaking via satellite in June 1996 to an ABC affiliates meeting in Orlando. ABC executive John Rouse noted that "there's a lot of ABC affiliates here who rely on ad spending during a political campaign" and that there was concern the Dole campaign had reached its spending limit.

Dole replied: "We can, through the Republican National Committee, through what we call the Victory '96 program, run television ads and other advertising. It's called generic. It's not Bob Dole for president. In fact, there's an ad running now, hopefully in Orlando, a 60-second spot about the Bob Dole story: Who is Bob Dole? What's he all about? . . .

"It never says that I'm running for president, though I hope that it's fairly obvious, since I'm the only one in the picture!"

After some laughter, moderator Koppel said: "I love those technicalities."

Davis said ABC was playing down the tape because "it would embarrass Ted Koppel" for appearing to endorse the financial "subterfuge" to enrich ABC stations.

"Obviously, Lanny has never heard of sarcasm before," Koppel replied yesterday in an interview. "That was not an endorsement." Had he remembered the Dole tape, Koppel said, "it surely would have been used in a piece we did on campaign finance last week. There's certainly no effort to hide it."

ABC aired an excerpt from the tape on "World News Tonight" yesterday but declined to release the tape, even when asked by Sen. Carl M. Levin (D-Mich.), who wanted to play it at the Senate hearings. ABC spokeswoman Eileen Murphy said Dole had addressed "an internal meeting," and "we don't feel like we're under any obligation to release it to our competitors or to any political party."

It was no secret last year that both parties were running television spots-paid for by "soft money" and legally barred from promoting individual candidates-to help their presidential contenders. The "issue" ad Dole referred to was a biographical spot largely about his Kansas background and war record.

The news media last week heavily covered a May 1996 White House videotape in which Clinton told Democratic donors that a barrage of party-financed ads had "been central to the position I now enjoy in the polls." Critics called the ads a blatant end-run around campaign spending limits.

Davis complained of a "media frenzy" over the tape, saying: "There's a double standard, with Dole getting a free ride for doing the same thing Clinton did." In running such ads, he added, "everyone takes advantage of a huge loophole, and they're acting legally when they do that."

But RNC communications director Clifford May said: "What Clinton did that was different, and crossed the line, is he created the ads, he wrote the ads, he edited the ads, he approved the ads. It may seem like a silly distinction to some people, but that's a separate question."

© Copyright 1997 The Washington Post Company

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