- The Washington Times - Monday, June 3, 2002

A truce on election ads by outside groups in South Dakota's Senate campaign has crumbled after barely one month, and new ads by an environmental group promise to escalate the war of special-interest money in the high-profile race.
The League of Conservation Voters (LCV) plans to air television ads this week attacking Rep. John Thune, the Republican challenger, on his procedural vote last year to delay new standards on arsenic in drinking water.
Thune campaign spokeswoman Christine Iverson said outside groups are coming to the aid of Sen. Tim Johnson because the Democratic incumbent was four points behind in the latest independent poll and was outraised by Mr. Thune 2 to 1 in the most recent donor-reporting period.
"They're down and they want to conserve their hard money," said Miss Iverson, referring to direct campaign donations from individuals. "So they figured they're going to bring in the third-party guys to have them spend soft money now, going negative. They're down and they're getting desperate."
But Johnson campaign spokesman Dan Pfeiffer said the candidate knew nothing about the environmentalists' ads until he was told by the media. And he said Mr. Thune has already benefited from third-party ads.
"John Thune is the handpicked candidate of the Washington special interests, so it's not surprising that special-interest money is now flowing into this race," Mr. Pfeiffer said.
The ratcheting up of ads by outside groups is yet another sign of the importance both parties place on this race, in a state with fewer than 800,000 residents. It will help determine control of the Senate, which now has 50 Democrats, 49 Republicans and an independent.
President Bush, hoping to return the Senate to Republican control to speed action on his agenda, campaigned in South Dakota for Mr. Thune in April. The leader of the Democratic opposition, Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle of South Dakota, has made the re-election of Mr. Johnson a priority this year.
Mr. Thune led Mr. Johnson, 46 percent to 42 percent, in the most recent independent poll, released May 14. The Augustana College poll surveyed 1,000 registered voters and had a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percent.
Thune campaign officials say the new ads by the LCV, coupled with earlier radio spots funded by the Sierra Club, prove that Democrats have ditched a mutual effort by the candidates in March to prevent third-party ads in the race.
But Mr. Pfeiffer said Republicans first violated the informal moratorium on interest-group ads with radio spots in April funded by the National Right to Life Committee. Those ads urged Mr. Johnson to support legislation to ban human cloning.
"The National Right to Life ad was a clear violation," Mr. Pfeiffer said. "Congressman Thune never said a word."
Further, he said, the conservative Club for Growth in Washington announced several weeks ago that it would air campaign ads in South Dakota after Tuesday's primary.
"This whole discussion [about banning third-party ads] was meaningless in the sense that, very soon after we had this discussion, John Thune's allies went up on the air and he never said a word about it," Mr. Pfeiffer said.
Asked if the environmentalists' advertisements give the Thune campaign the green light for third-party advocacy, Miss Iverson replied, "Clearly, when you are viciously attacked, you have to defend yourself."

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