WASHINGTON – The Republican donor who helped bankroll the Swift Boat attacks on Democratic Sen. John Kerry's war record has given $5 million to a new group targeting Democratic candidates.
Bob J. Perry, a Texas homebuilder with close ties to White House advisor Karl Rove and former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, recently made the hefty donations to the Economic Freedom Fund, a newly created California group.
The group is a so-called 527 that is not subject to conventional campaign finance restrictions and can spend unlimited amounts on election advocacy, similar to the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth. In the 2004 presidential race, the group of Vietnam veterans made unsubstantiated allegations challenging Kerry's record of wartime heroism.
So far, the new group — which lists Perry as its sole donor — has spent slightly more than $500,000 on television ads and mailings criticizing Democratic Reps. Jim Marshall of Georgia and Alan Mollohan of West Virginia, according to a disclosure form filed last week with the Federal Election Commission.
According to its Web site, the group also is distributing mailing supporting Republican Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue's re-election campaign and Jim Nussle of Iowa, a Republican congressman running for governor.
Anthony Holm, a spokesman for Perry, declined to comment. Charles H. Bell Jr., a Sacramento attorney listed as the fund's contact, did not return repeated phone calls. On its FEC filings, the group lists as its address the same Sacramento office as Bell's law firm, Bell, McAndrews & Hiltachk.
The West Virginia and Georgia races are considered among the GOP's best shots at picking up seats in an election year where some experts believe the party is in danger of losing its majority in Congress.
Perry's $5 million donation, made in two payments on Aug. 18 and Sept. 5, is among the largest individual donation to any 527 group this year, although contribution records are still being filed. It exceeds the nearly $4.5 million that Perry gave the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth in 2004.
By comparison, billionaire Democratic donor George Soros has given about $2.3 million this year to several outside groups.
According to its Sept. 8 disclosure, the Economic Freedom Fund has spent $337,753 on the West Virginia race, where Mollohan, a 12-term Democrat, faces Republican state delegate Chris Wakim. The group has spent $163,599 in Georgia, where two-term incumbent Marshall is being challenged by former Republican congressman Mac Collins.
The West Virginia ads address recent allegations regarding Mollohan's ethics, citing news reports that he is the subject of a federal investigation into whether he steered government money to nonprofit groups that donated to his campaigns.
The Georgia ads portray Marshall, a conservative Democrat, as a liberal linking him to Democratic Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton and Ted Kennedy and Rep. Cynthia McKinney, who lost her seat in a Democratic primary after a highly publicized scuffle with a Capitol Hill police officer.
Marshall spokesman Doug Moore said voters in the district are familiar enough with Marshall's record to know the ads are off base.
"Getting out there and calling Jim Marshall a liberal in the Macon media market isn't going to be effective," Moore said. "Everybody here knows Jim, and they know he's conservative."
Unlike with Kerry and the Swift Boat group, the Economic Freedom Fund has not questioned Marshall's Vietnam War service. A former Army Ranger platoon sergeant and recent inductee into the Army Ranger Hall of Fame, Marshall was awarded two Bronze Stars and a Purple Heart for his service in Vietnam.
"Jim Marshall has a great military record, and I hope they bring that up because we would love to make that an issue in this campaign," Moore said.
The group also made automated phone calls supporting Republican Rep. Mike Sodrel and criticizing his Indiana rival, but the effort may have done more harm than good. A spokeswoman for the Indiana Attorney General's office said Thursday it will investigate a complaint that the calls violate the state's law against automated phone calls.
According to its filing, the Economic Freedom Fund was formed to "promote policies and issues favoring economic freedom, growth and prosperity of the economy."