Bush Camp Asks FEC to Investigate 'Soft Money' Ads

President Bush's re-election campaign says it will ask the Federal Election Commission (search) to investigate a Democratic-leaning group that will air $4.5 million worth of TV ads against Bush, beginning Wednesday.

The Media Fund's (search) initial two-week ad run in 17 competitive states will include commercials that criticize Bush's policies and priorities, and mention the president by name.

Financed in part by billionaire George Soros (search) and headed by former Clinton administration adviser Harold Ickes, the group expects to raise tens of millions of dollars to run ads this election year. It bought at least $1 million worth of airtime on Monday and expects to buy more this week for its initial ad run.

Bush's re-election campaign, which began its own $10 million initial ad blitz last week, called the group's activity illegal. The campaign said it would file a complaint with the FEC accusing the Media Fund of violating a broad, new ban on the use of "soft money" — corporate, union and unlimited contributions — for federal election activity.

"This is the blatant soft-money circumvention of the recently passed campaign finance laws that all the Democrats, from Senator Kerry and Senator Daschle to Nancy Pelosi, were so sanctimonious about," said Tom Josefiak, general counsel of the Bush-Cheney campaign.

"It is an attempt to blow up the ban on the newly passed campaign finance reform bill to use soft money to win a federal election," he said in a statement.

Bush's campaign contends the Media Fund is trying to influence the presidential election and should have to register with the FEC as a political committee, which would limit it to accepting only donations of up to $5,000 from individuals and other political committees, and require it to disclose its fund raising and spending to the commission.

Several campaign finance watchdog groups filed a similar complaint with the FEC against the Media Fund and other political soft-money groups in January.

Media Fund spokesman James Jordan called the Bush campaign's allegations "simply, a lie, a deliberate misrepresentation of the law."

"This is nothing more than a cynical and transparent attempt to intimidate our donors and silence dissenting voices," Jordan said.

The Media Fund is the second outside group to go on the air in as many weeks to counter Bush's multimillion-dollar ad campaign and ensure a Democratic presence on the airwaves. The liberal MoveOn.org Voter Fund also is running ads in swing states. The groups have emerged as "shadow parties" and are nicknamed "527s" for the section of the tax code under which they operate.

The Bush campaign suggests that Media Fund donors may have broken the law by giving to the group, and it wants the FEC to find out whether contributors gave thinking their donations would be used to influence a federal election.

Soros spokesman Michael Vachon accused the Bush campaign of trying to intimidate donors with a "completely bogus" complaint. Asked if Soros would keep writing checks to the Media Fund and other soft-money groups, Vachon said, "Absolutely."

The Media Fund argues that it is legal to spend soft money on anti-Bush ads as long as they stop short of calling for his election or defeat. The donations must also be kept separate from any corporate or union contributions.

Bush-Cheney officials said they won't ask for the ads to be pulled off the air because the FEC doesn't have that authority, and because a court is unlikely to act before the FEC finishes its review of the new campaign finance laws. The object of the complaint is to highlight what Bush campaign officials say are Democratic hypocrisies and to prod the FEC to act more quickly than it has in the past, the officials said.

The FEC is currently considering how the new campaign finance law affects soft-money groups, like the Media Fund, that aren't registered with the commission as political committees, including whether they should face new limits on their fund raising and spending. The agency is expected to decide the question by May.