Saturday, August 23, 2008

Is Pro-McCain TV Ad Illegal?

I received an email from the “Obama Action Wire” (part of the Obama presidential campaign support) that stated the following:

“Yesterday, a right-wing smear group launched a full-fledge attack against Barack, pulling in every baseless lie and re-hashed false assertion in their playbook.

Not only that -- it turns out the ad may be illegal. Campaign finance experts are weighing in about violations of election law. And the ad is so ridiculous that CNN and even Fox News have both refused to run it.

This is exactly the kind of politics Barack is running to change.

Unfortunately, some TV stations in Ohio are running the ad right now.

Contact TV stations in Ohio and tell them this kind of garbage shouldn't be run on the public's airwaves, no matter how much money they are making to run it.

John McCain claims he had nothing to do with this attack, but a former McCain consultant leads the so called 'third-party' group behind these lies.

The primary funder of the ads, Harrold Simmons, is one of the main culprits behind the Swift Boating of John Kerry and a top bundler for John McCain. The spokesman for the group also has ties to the Kerry Swift Boat attacks.

The McCain camp and the Swift Boaters must be truly desperate to change the subject from John McCain's shocking disconnect with the economic struggles of the American people.

Take action right now to make sure this trash doesn't pollute another election:

Keep fighting the good fight,

Obama Action Wire”

I do recall seeing the commercial, and found it mildly annoying, but didn’t realize that there would be an issue with its legality. The ad is as follows, which is being aired on the American Issues Project web site.

You know about how I feel about 527 groups like the American Issues Project, I wrote about them on my blog on August 8th, here. It appears that this time, a 527 group and one benefactor, Texas billionaire Harold Simmons, may have gotten caught violating election rules, and also John McCain’s campaign is being dragged right along with him.

So here’s the full story from the LA Times. Personally, I think that the ads, which are targeting only two states, should be pulled from the air until their legality can be verified. And, pulling the ads from the air may actually help the McCain campaign because it will make the story go away for a while. Still, it again makes me question if it’s “politics as usual” for the McCain camp if there is proof they had any hand – even the smallest – in this ad.

Billionaire Harold Simmons funded ad linking Obama, ex-Weatherman Ayers

A major fundraiser for John McCain, he also helped pay for the Swift Boat ads that attacked the military record of Democratic presidential candidate John F. Kerry in 2004.

By Dan Morain, Los Angeles Times Staff Writer
August 23, 2008

Texas billionaire Harold Simmons, who helped pay for the devastating attacks on the military record of Democratic presidential candidate John F. Kerry in 2004, has paid for a television ad that assails Barack Obama over his ties to a founder of a violent radical group.

Simmons, who is also a major fundraiser for John McCain, donated $2.87 million that a newly formed nonprofit group, the American Issues Project, has used for the ad, a report filed Friday with the Federal Election Commission shows.

The 60-second ad opens with Obama giving a speech, then asks how much voters know about him.

From there, it focuses on his relationship with William Ayers, a University of Illinois at Chicago professor who more than three decades ago was deeply involved with the Weather Underground, which claimed responsibility for numerous bombings.

The American Issues Project is airing the commercial in Ohio and Michigan, where Obama and McCain are locked in tight contests.

Obama's campaign responded to the ad by sending a letter to the Justice Department charging that the backers are violating criminal law and urging an investigation. Obama's attorneys also are calling on television stations not to air the spot.

The national Fox News Network has declined to air it, but several Fox affiliates in Ohio and Michigan are showing it.

"It's on tons of stations in Michigan and Ohio," said Christian Pinkston, a Washington consultant overseeing the effort.

"It is a battleground-state strategy."

Pinkston and Simmons were both involved with Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, the group that ran ads questioning the Vietnam record of Kerry, a decorated veteran. Simmons was Swift Boat's second-largest donor, giving $3 million.

Simmons has donated at least $4.5 million to federal campaigns in the past decade, Federal Election Commission records show.

Simmons was No. 43 on the 2007 Forbes list of richest Americans, with a net worth estimated at $7.4 billion. Known as a corporate raider, Simmons has been nicknamed "the Ice Man." He acquired his wealth by investing in drugstores, steel, garbage collection and other entities. He could not be reached for comment.

On its website, McCain's campaign discloses that Simmons has raised between $50,000 and $100,000 for the Republican candidate.

Simmons also has given direct contributions to McCain and McCain-related committees totaling $17,300 since the presidential campaign began last year. A political action committee affiliated with one of Simmons' companies has donated $18,500 to McCain committees.

The anti-Obama ad that Simmons funded notes that the Sept. 11 hijackers failed to crash one of the hijacked jets into the Capitol but that 30 years earlier the Weather Underground detonated a bomb in it. "Why would Barack Obama be friends with someone who bombed the Capitol and is proud of it?" the ad asks.

Ayers was never prosecuted for any of the Weather Underground bombings; charges were dropped because of prosecutorial misconduct.

Under federal law, it would be illegal for McCain to have had a hand in the ad, and McCain's campaign has denied involvement.

Obama attorney Robert F. Bauer charged in a letter to the Justice Department that the American Issues Project is engaging in a "willful attempt to evade the strictures of federal election law."

The group claims tax- exempt status.

Bauer noted that the law limits the ability of such committees to expressly advocate for the defeat or election of a candidate.

Instead, he charged, the group should be operating as a political organization.

Federal law, however, caps the size of donations to such groups, a restriction that would have precluded Simmons from donating $2.87 million.

"We urge and expect the Department of Justice to fulfill its commitment to take prompt, vigorous action to enforce against criminal violations of the campaign finance laws," Bauer wrote in his letter.

Separately, Obama's attorneys are demanding that television stations spike the spot. They say the ad is "demonstrably false" and labeled it a "crude, disreputable and malicious attempt to link Sen. Obama to domestic terrorist activities."

Pinkston, the American Issues consultant, scoffed at the charges, saying: "These people need to study election law. It is totally legal. You can be sure we vetted and vetted and vetted it again."

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