WASHINGTON – Election officials have thrown out a complaint against John Kerry's (search) presidential campaign and CBS over a now-discredited story that questioned President Bush's National Guard service.
The Federal Election Commission (search), in a 6-0 ruling, said there was no reason to believe the allegations raised by the Center for Individual Freedom (search) over the story that aired on CBS' "60 Minutes Wednesday" in September.
The politically conservative group contended the report amounted to an illegal election-time advertisement against Bush that was financed with corporate money; that CBS improperly coordinated the story with Kerry's campaign; and that the story was an illegal contribution to the Democratic senator from Massachusetts.
The FEC vote, taken last month, was disclosed this week in a statement by the commission's three Republican members explaining why they joined the FEC's three Democrats in rejecting the complaint.
The GOP commissioners — Michael Toner, Bradley Smith and David Mason — wrote that they believe the CBS story is protected by the media's exemption from campaign finance laws.
"It is not for this agency to determine what is a `legitimate news story' or who is a `responsible journalist,"' the three wrote.
"Allegations of coordination are of no import when applying the press exemption," they said. "What a press entity says in broadcasts, news stories and editorials is absolutely protected under the press exemption."
Commission lawyers had recommended that the FEC dismiss the complaint.
In January, CBS fired three CBS News executives and a producer for rushing the story to air. An independent panel appointed by CBS to investigate the story found several missteps and could not say whether memos the story relied on were authentic or faked.
The CBS report cited documents purported to be from one of Bush's commanders in the Texas Air National Guard. The documents stated that Bush refused to take a medical exam and that the officer felt pressured to go easy on Bush in an evaluation.
A top Kerry adviser, Joe Lockhart, admitted talking to CBS' source for the documents at the suggestion of a CBS News producer. Lockhart and the Kerry campaign denied coordinating the story with CBS or with the source.