Republicans charged yesterday that the Kerry campaign, the Democratic Party, labor unions and other groups have organized a get-out-the-vote operation in Florida that violates federal campaign finance law.
The Republican National Committee and the Florida Republican Party obtained a 46-page document in which Kerry's campaign, the Democratic National Committee, a number of unions and the Academy of Florida Trial Lawyers are shown to agree "to contribute field and fundraising help" for a massive turnout drive.
Jill Vogel, the RNC's chief counsel, said the document shows "illegal coordination resulting in excessive and prohibited contributions," including the illegal use of "soft" money -- unlimited donations from corporations, unions and the wealthy -- in a federal election and the making of illegal soft-money contributions to the Kerry campaign. She said the RNC will file a complaint with the Federal Election Commission, but she acknowledged that there is little likelihood of regulatory action in the final 12 days of the campaign.
DNC spokeswoman Jenny Backus dismissed the charges as "baseless" and "a political tactic to make people lose faith in the American electoral process." But then Democrats themselves produced a document suggesting that the Bush-Cheney campaign is coordinating illegally with soft-money groups in Florida.
The document Republicans are complaining about is called "Florida Victory 2004" and is authentic, but it is a draft, DNC chief counsel Joseph Sandler said. He and Backus declined to produce the final version of the document or to name all the participants.
The version Republicans obtained calls for signatures from officials of the DNC, the Kerry-Edwards campaign, the Florida Democratic Party, the state AFL-CIO, the state Education Association, the Academy of Florida Trial Lawyers and the state affiliate of the Service Employees International Union.
Sandler said some of the organizations are contributing soft money to the state party for the get-out-the-vote effort. Union and corporate donations are prohibited in federal contests. But Sandler said the Florida plan is legal. He cited a Supreme Court decision allowing national party officials to discuss soft-money spending with state party officials.
Larry Noble, executive director of the Center for Responsive Politics and a former chief counsel of the FEC, said that "at the very least, this document should lead to an FEC investigation." Noble said the Supreme Court decision that Sandler cited does not allow national party officials and federal candidates to plan soft-money activities with outside groups such as unions and trial lawyers.
While asserting that their activities are legal, the Democrats provided a Web link to the April 26, 2004, minutes of the Republican executive committee of Bay County, Fla. The minutes suggest that the Bush campaign has engaged in similar coordination with unspecified soft-money groups: Nick Breeding, Bush-Cheney regional field director, told the Bay County GOP that he was working on "coordination with the various organizations and special interest groups involved in political support for President Bush's re-election." Breeding declined to comment yesterday.
Reed Dickens, a Bush campaign spokesman, called this "a desperate and hypocritical attempt to divert attention" from the Democrats' action.