WASHINGTON – Tobacco and food giant Altria Group Inc. (search) is asking federal regulators to sign off on its plan to run magazine ads contrasting the policies of President Bush and Democratic candidate John Kerry.
The parent of Philip Morris (search), Kraft Foods and other companies plans to run ads in BusinessWeek magazine over the summer and fall featuring responses by the Democratic and Republican parties and their presidential campaigns to questions about positions on various issues.
Altria Group, formerly Philip Morris Cos., told the Federal Election Commission (search) it believes the ads do not fall under a ban on corporate contributions and spending in federal elections but asked the FEC for its opinion. The commission is expected to rule within the next month.
The corporation donated $2.2 million to national Republican Party committees during the 2001-02 election cycle, the last time parties could accept "soft money," corporate, union or unlimited contributions. It was the third most generous donor to the GOP.
The campaign finance law that took effect starting with the 2003-04 election cycle prohibits corporations from contributing to presidential or congressional candidates or spending on their behalf.
The company contends the ads on candidates' policy positions should be considered a nonpartisan voter guide exempt from the law's restrictions. It also argues that the ads fall under exemptions that let magazines stage candidate debates and carry news stories, commentaries or editorials on candidates without running up against the law.
BusinessWeek, in consultation with Altria Group subsidiary Altria Corporate Services, picked 20 "current events" topics for the questions, Altria Group told the FEC.
Six ads are slated to run between late June and early November. The company said it would publish responses only if both parties answer and that it wouldn't edit the statements.