WASHINGTON – A group financed in part by liberal billionaire George Soros (search) will run $5 million worth of TV ads against President Bush that mention the Republican by name, a point of contention among the president's re-election team that argues the spots violate federal law.
The Media Fund's (search) initial two-week buy, beginning Wednesday in 17 competitive states, will include commercials that criticize Bush's policies and priorities. Bush's re-election campaign plans to ask the Federal Election Commission (search) to investigate.
The group expects to raise tens of millions of dollars to run ads this election year.
Bush's 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 (search), were so sanctimonious about," said Tom Josefiak, general counsel of the Bush-Cheney campaign (search).
"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.
At the same time, Citizens United, a conservative group headed by former Republican congressional aide David Bossie, is running an ad in several states that is funded with soft money and pokes fun at presumptive Democratic nominee John Kerry's haircut, designer clothing and property holdings. The ad calls the senator a "rich, liberal elitist from Massachusetts who claims he's a man of the people."
"The rank dishonesty of the Republican position is certainly highlighted by their refusal to condemn the identical activities of Republican groups," said James Jordan, a Media Fund spokesman.
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.
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, which is headed by former Clinton administration adviser Harold Ickes, 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 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.