Independent Groups' Big Role in Politics

Sen. John Kerry and his campaign have spent much of the last week accusing President Bush's campaign of illegally coordinating with a third-party group that has been running scathing ads attacking the Democratic presidential nominee's war record.

Kerry last Thursday called Swift Boat Veterans for Truth a "front for the Bush campaign" that was doing the president's "dirty work." His campaign filed a complaint Friday with the Federal Election Commission spelling out the allegations.

Today, with the resignation of Bush-Cheney national counsel Ben Ginsberg — who left the campaign after the disclosure he had also been working for Swift Boat Veterans for Truth — that charge has taken on new momentum, in the media if not with the FEC.

"It's another piece of the mounting evidence of the ties between the Bush campaign and this group," said Kerry spokesman Chad Claton. "The longer President Bush waits to specifically condemn this smear, the more it looks like his campaign is behind it."

Bush campaign spokesman Scott Stanzel insists "there has been no coordination at any time." For his part, Ginsberg accused the media of having a "stunning double standard" on the actions of independent groups who oppose Kerry and those who are aligned with him.

In his letter of resignation, Ginsberg said his legal advice to the anti-Kerry veterans — a group classified as a "527" by the Internal Revenue Service — "was done so in a manner that is fully appropriate and legal and, in fact, is quite similar to the relationships between my counterparts at the DNC and the Kerry campaign and Democrat 527s such as Moveon.org, the Media Fund and Americans Coming Together."

Regardless of Kerry's feelings about this particular independent group and its charges, he has been more beneficiary than victim of these types of independent groups.

When he was struggling against a mighty Democratic challenger, Howard Dean, during the primaries, an independent group with myriad Kerry ties suddenly emerged to slam the former Vermont governor in a harsh TV ad. When Kerry campaign was running short on cash earlier this year, a number of liberal, independent groups with ties to the Massachusetts senator and the Democratic Party saturated the airwaves in battleground states with anti-Bush TV ads.

Arguably no one has benefited more from the existence of these types of independent groups than Kerry. And unlike the president, Kerry has not called for the FEC to rule them illegal.

The Shadowy Anti-Dean Group

Swift Boats Veterans for Truth is classified as a "527" by the IRS code. Since it is registered this way, it is banned from coordinating with a political party or campaign, and it is not supposed to be advocating for the defeat or election of any candidate.

The benefit of registering as a 527 is that the group is able to raise the same kind of unlimited (or "soft") campaign dollars banned to political parties and campaigns, such as the $200,000 given to the group by Bob Perry, a real estate magnate with ties to Bush adviser Karl Rove. Kerry has referred to Perry as "a Republican contributor out of Texas."

In December 2003, however, the scathing TV ads that were all the talk of the political world were not funded by fat-cat Texas Republicans, nor were they targeted at Kerry. Quite the contrary.

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