President Bush’s re-election campaign and the Republican National Committee yesterday accused Democratic challenger Sen. John Kerry’s campaign formally of illegal coordination of political advertising with anti-Bush groups and donors, including billionaire George Soros.
“Senator Kerry, who supported the Bipartisan Campaign Finance Reform Act, is now the beneficiary of the single largest conspiracy to violate campaign-finance laws in history,” RNC Chief Counsel Jill Holtzman Vogel said yesterday at a press conference with Bush campaign and other RNC officials.
The RNC and the Bush team filed the complaint with the Federal Election Commission, saying the Kerry campaign and pro-Kerry groups not affiliated with it or the Democratic Party are violating the landmark campaign-finance law passed last year.
The complaint is intended only as a precursor to a federal court case. Campaign and Republican officials are asking the FEC to dismiss the complaint quickly so that they can bring suit in a federal court to block the use of “soft money” — unlimited donations from corporations, unions and individuals — to finance the ads by such groups as MoveOn.org.
Originally, the act’s supporters said the legislation would take “big money” out of election financing. Opponents said it would curtail free speech and undermine political parties in favor of outside interests and rich donors.
The Republican complaint says that groups organized under Section 527 of the Internal Revenue Service code are asking individuals for unlimited, unregulated donations, using the pitch that the money will be spent to defeat Mr. Bush or elect Mr. Kerry.
Providing that money would be a crime on the donor’s part.
The law carries stiff financial penalties and incarceration for violators.
The complaint also says that the groups soliciting the soft-money donations also are committing a federal crime merely by seeking donations to affect a federal election.
Republicans argue that these groups will have to register as political committees, who are subject to several federal regulations, including limits on the amount a donor can give, if they want to engage in federal election activities.
“They are making a mockery of the rules established during a long and arduous debate,” Marc Racicot, chairman of the Bush campaign, said yesterday.
The campaign-finance law, passed after years of heated debate over its ban on “soft money” and limits on issue ads, was sponsored by Sens. John McCain, Arizona Republican, and Russell D. Feingold, Wisconsin Democrat.
Michael Meehan, a senior adviser to the Kerry campaign, denied the Republican accusations.
“Bush and the Republicans have taken March Madness and April Foolishness to new levels,” Mr. Meehan said. “This frivolous complaint is not worth the paper it is written on. John Kerry and his campaign have nothing to do with these ads or the groups that run them.”
The Republicans aimed their complaints against the Media Fund, the MoveOn.org Voter Fund and other such groups, some of which have pledged to raise millions of dollars in soft money from individuals.
The Media Fund and MoveOn.org financed nearly $10 million in anti-Bush ads since Mr. Kerry clinched the nomination March 2.
Republicans say the ads aired at about the same time that Mr. Kerry’s campaign made its ad buys. One Media Fund ad included items in Mr. Kerry’s tax plan before he made them public.
In addition, the Republican complaint identifies many officials in Media Fund and MoveOn.org as having once worked for the Kerry campaign.
An entry on the blog at Mr. Kerry’s official Web site (https://blog.johnkerry.com/blog/archives/000871.html#more) said the East Bay for Kerry team of Berkeley, Calif., and MoveOn.org had “combined forces” for a joint house party featuring an appearance by Teresa Heinz Kerry, the senator’s wife.
“The East Bay for Kerry/MoveOn House party on December 7th combined the forces of two grass-roots organizations based in San Francisco East Bay Area. We had 200 guests eating, drinking, and watching the MoveOn Documentary ‘Uncovered’ featuring Joseph Wilson and Rand Beers from the Kerry campaign,” reads the entry from Pamela Leavey.
A recent MoveOn.org TV ad does not mention Mr. Kerry or urge viewers to vote against Mr. Bush. Instead, with a picture of Mr. Bush on the screen, an announcer lays out a case that the president misinformed the nation about the threat posed by Iraq.
The ad concludes with the admonition: “When a president misleads us, he must face the consequences. Congress should censure President Bush now.” The word “censure” is superimposed above the picture.
Wes Boyd, president of the MoveOn.org Voter Fund, yesterday denied any illegal coordination.
“We do not coordinate with the Kerry campaign,” Mr. Boyd said in a statement. “These charges are baseless and irresponsible.”
Mr. Meehan noted that Mr. Racicot, when he was RNC chairman, joined a constitutional challenge of the new law but lost in a 5-4 Supreme Court decision.
RNC Chairman Ed Gillespie responded with a quote from an old Bobby Fuller song: “I fought the law and the law won.”
“It’s the law of the land,” he added.
Jim Jordan, spokesman for the Media Fund and another group named in the complaint, America Coming Together, dismissed the Republican accusations as “the politics of distraction and intimidation.”
He said the accusations were “a transparent and ineffectual attempt by the Bush campaign and the Republican Party to silence their critics and to change the subject of these elections away from the failed policies of this administration.”
Mr. Bush has an expected cash advantage of about $100 million over Mr. Kerry, based on individual donations of $2,000 or less. But Democrats have had a traditional advantage with “independent expenditure” groups — which span the political spectrum from MoveOn.org to the conservative Club for Growth.
Republicans say that with the parties no longer able to accept “soft money,” these groups have become liberals’ preferred conduit for those funds.