GOP Governors Challenged on Ads

The Republican Governors Association (search) has been pulled into court and before regulatory agencies in several states this fall, where it's been fined or ordered to temporarily pull GOP gubernatorial candidate ads.

Democrats say the GOP is skirting state laws to give its candidates an edge, while Republicans counter that the complaints are either unfair partisan sniping or the result of murky state laws.

The reasons for the disputes vary, though they all involve campaign finances and oversight:

-- In New Hampshire, where polls show GOP Gov. Craig Benson (search) facing a tough challenge from Democrat John Lynch (search), the Republican state attorney general ordered the RGA to temporarily stop running an ad because it failed to register as required.

-- In North Carolina, the State Board of Elections board fined the RGA nearly $200,000 for one ad and ordered it to pull another because it concluded the ad went beyond what is allowed by law -- advocating directly for a candidate, rather than just issues. A judge stayed the board's decision on the second ad and allowed it to run.

-- In Vermont, the state attorney general, a Democrat, found that the group was violating state law by failing to register as a political action committee. He said he wouldn't pursue the case, however, because the Republicans said they were given a green light by the secretary of state's office.

Elsewhere, Democrats complained in Washington state that the RGA should disclose its contributors, and in Montana that Republican telephone polling was inappropriate. In neither case was there any formal hearing or action taken by officials.

"It's an unfair advantage. One or two of these (races) could be tipped by this stuff," said B.J. Thornberry, executive director of the Democratic Governors Association. "Every time they overstep the boundaries, there's got to be an attempt to stop them."

RGA spokesman Harvey Valentine said the group has followed the law or the advice of state officials in every case, and said the allegations are an attempt by Democrats to shut down free speech.

It seems like the Democratic strategy this year is "when we show up, start filing legal complaints rather than debating the issues," Valentine said.

RGA executive director Ed Tobin noted that his group has won when judges weighed in. "In every case where we've been challenged, the courts have agreed with us. And our ads have continued to be on the air," he said.

In North Carolina, the state elections board that fined the RGA voted along partisan lines -- three Democrats against two Republicans -- to fine the GOP for an ad that criticized Democratic Gov. Mike Easley. The board later broke on partisan lines to dismiss a similar complaint against an independent Democrat group.

The New Hampshire case was resolved when the RGA agreed, under protest, to register as a political action committee. Despite the cease-and-desist order, the group never stopped running the ad in question.