WASHINGTON – One of President Bush's election lawyers also advises a group running ads against Democratic rival John Kerry (search). A Democratic Party attorney works for the group behind commercials that criticize Bush.
Welcome to politics under a new campaign finance law. In effect for the first time this election cycle, the law bans national party committees and federal candidates from raising or spending big donations known as soft money, and imposes tougher rules banning coordination between soft-money groups and parties or candidates.
But the law doesn't necessarily make it easier to prove who's involved with what on the campaign trail.
On Tuesday, Benjamin Ginsberg, a lawyer for Bush's re-election campaign, disclosed that he has been providing legal advice for a veterans group challenging Kerry's account of his Vietnam War service.
Ginsberg's acknowledgment marked the second time in days that someone associated with the Bush-Cheney campaign has been connected to Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, the group Kerry accuses of being a front for Bush's re-election effort.
The Bush campaign and the veterans group say there is no coordination.
Ginsberg said he never told the Bush campaign what he discussed with the group or vice versa, and doesn't advise the group on ad strategy. He said he had not yet decided whether to charge the Swift Boat Veterans for his work.
Ginsberg contends that by offering legal advice to both the Bush campaign and the Swift Boat group, he has done nothing different from other election lawyers, including attorneys for Kerry and the Democratic National Committee (search) who have also advised soft-money groups. Representing campaigns, parties and outside groups simultaneously is legal and allowed under the Federal Election Commission (search) coordination rules, he said.
Joe Sandler, a lawyer for the DNC and MoveOn.org (search), a group running anti-Bush ads, said there is nothing wrong with serving in both roles at once. Attorneys are ethically bound to maintain attorney-client confidentiality, and could lose their law licenses if they violate that, he said.
Larry Noble, head of the Center for Responsive Politics campaign watchdog group and a former FEC general counsel, said serving as a lawyer for both a campaign and a soft-money group isn't considered automatic evidence of coordination under commission rules. But that doesn't mean the FEC won't look at it, he said.
"I would think it's a relationship that may very well raise coordination concerns," Noble said. "I think this issue has been percolating."
Kerry's campaign has filed a complaint with the FEC accusing the Bush campaign and the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth of illegally coordinating the group's ads. They allege Kerry has lied about his decorated Vietnam War service; the group's accounts in a television ad have been disputed by Navy records and veterans who served on Kerry's boat.
On Saturday, retired Air Force Col. Ken Cordier resigned as a member of the Bush campaign's veterans' steering committee after it was learned he appeared in the Swift Boat commercial.
Kerry, meanwhile, is the subject of complaints by the Bush campaign and GOP accusing his campaign of illegally coordinating anti-Bush ads with soft-money groups, allegations he and the groups deny.