- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 6, 2004

If there is a shadow behind the “shadow campaign” of independent Democratic groups opposing the re-election of President Bush this fall, it is former President Bill Clinton.

Denied a meaningful role in the 2000 presidential campaign of his vice president, Al Gore, Mr. Clinton is the common denominator in the major political organizations established to help level the financial playing field against Mr. Bush for this year’s presumptive Democratic nominee, Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts.

Moveon.org, an Internet grass-roots organizing group, began as an effort to defend Mr. Clinton from impeachment in 1998, but since has transformed into perhaps the most aggressive anti-Bush organization, spending millions on TV ads criticizing the president.

The Center for American Progress, a public-research group established to counter the conservative Heritage Foundation think tank, is headed by former Clinton White House Chief of Staff John Podesta.

And former Clinton adviser Harold Ickes directs the Media Fund, which is raising money for issue ads in battleground states in the presidential contest.

Add Mr. Clinton’s prodigious fund-raising talents to the mix, his keen strategic insights and his ability to inspire large segments of the Democratic faithful, and it becomes clear that the former president is going to be Mr. Kerry’s not-so-silent partner, whether Mr. Kerry wants him or not.

There is no suggestion at all from the Kerry camp that Mr. Clinton is not a welcome addition to the campaign.

“His role in this election hasn’t really been determined, but he is an important national leader on a variety of issues that are important to the American people, such as the economy and jobs,” said Stephanie Cutter, a Kerry spokeswoman. “He’ll play an active role.”

He already has.

After Mr. Kerry came from behind during the presidential primaries to reclaim his role as front-runner over former Gov. Howard Dean of Vermont, the Massachusetts senator frequently spoke privately by telephone with Mr. Clinton about strategy.

And since vanquishing all his opponents for the 2004 nomination, Mr. Kerry has received more public support from Mr. Clinton: In his Democratic record-setting $50 million in fund raising for the first quarter of 2004, for example, Mr. Kerry raked in $2 million in one day after an e-mail solicitation by Mr. Clinton.

It is through political organizations, known as 527s, that Mr. Clinton seems to be expanding his already-impressive influence over the Democratic Party.

The rise of the 527, which take its name from a section of the federal tax code, is a byproduct of the McCain-Feingold campaign-finance reforms, which put limits on the amount of “soft money” contributions from corporations and unions, for example that could be donated to political parties.

No such limits apply to 527s, and a coalition of anti-Bush 527s has raised and spent millions of dollars on political ads, get-out-the-vote campaigns, research and more fund raising, resulting in the creation of a parallel or “shadow” Democratic Party a new political vehicle driven mostly by former Clinton aides and supporters.

“The Clinton circle is busy building things,” longtime political analyst William Greider noted in the Nation, a left-wing magazine. “Whatever the intention, one consequence could be to smother any internal debate about what the party really believes and how to enlarge its sense of purpose.”

Indeed, Democratic Leadership Council (DLC) founders Al From and Bruce Reed, longtime Clinton confidants, were among the first to warn the party of what they saw as the dire consequences of a leftward-lurching Mr. Dean. And in the DLC’s latest publication, Will Marshall, president of the DLC think tank, the Progressive Policy Institute, argues that Mr. Dean’s campaign failed because it represented “smoldering resentment” within the party over the “intellectual and political ascendancy” of Mr. Clinton’s “New Democrats” doctrine.

Now, though, the Democratic Party is united as never before in its commitment to oust Mr. Bush, providing the impetus for the anti-Bush 527s and giving Mr. Clinton a high-profile campaign opportunity he was denied by Mr. Gore in 2000.

The Bush re-election campaign, in a formal complaint to the Federal Election Commission (FEC) about the anti-Bush 527s, accuses Mr. Kerry of an “unprecedented illegal conspiracy” with outside groups to spend unregulated money and coordinate their advertising.

Marc Racicot, chairman of the Bush-Cheney campaign and former chairman of the Republican National Committee (RNC), conceded that the request to the FEC is unprecedented, but he said it was warranted under the circumstances.

“We are confident that they will consider this unique request we made and put an end to this abuse of the law and put an end to this violation of the law,” he said.

The RNC complaint says that the 527 groups are violating the 2002 campaign-finance reform act by paying for anti-Bush ads and other political activities with unlimited contributions raised from wealthy donors, unions and liberal-interest groups what the complaint described as an “illegal Democratic soft-money slush fund scheme.”

The Kerry campaign has denied any wrongdoing, and Mr. Ickes has responded that the activities of the 527s are “entirely legal.”

He described those activities as a political campaign without a candidate.

“Politically, we are trying to really highlight, underscore and push into sharp focus the policies of the Republicans,” Mr. Ickes said. “That may have a certain effect on the Bush or the Kerry campaign, but we are not involved in electing or defeating people. We are raising issues.”

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