Dean was riding high in the polls until a new TV ad began appearing in early-primary states New Hampshire and South Carolina. Featuring the image of Osama bin Laden, the ad told viewers that "Americans want a president who can face the dangers ahead. But Howard Dean has no military or foreign policy experience. And Howard Dean just cannot compete with George Bush on foreign policy." Captions floated up and around the screen: "No experience," "Destroy Us."
The 527 behind this particular ad, Americans for Jobs, Health Care and Progressive Values, was put together by supporters and former staffers of Dean's two main opponents at that point in time: Rep. Richard Gephardt, D-Mo., and Kerry.
The group's treasurer was Robert Gibbs, who only weeks before served as a campaign spokesman for Kerry. According to campaign finance records, its two biggest contributions — $100,000 each — came from the Yankees Entertainment Network, run by Leo Hindery, who has given $5,000 to Kerry over the years, and Slimfast founder S. Daniel Abraham, who has given Kerry $4,000.
Bernard Schwartz — the chairman of Loral Space and Communications, who had given Kerry the maximum contribution of $2,000 just months before — chipped in $15,000. Swanee Hunt, who has given at least $3,000 to Kerry over the years, donated $25,000 to the group. A $50,000 donation came from the defunct re-election campaign of Sen. Bob Torricelli, the ethics-challenged former New Jersey senator who was also a Kerry supporter.
All told, Americans for Jobs, Health Care and Progressive Values spent $633,000 on anti-Dean ads, about a third of the funding of which was tied to Kerry campaign supporters from over the years.
The Kerry campaign then — just like the Bush campaign today — insisted there was nothing untoward about the fact that supporters and former staffers loyal to Kerry were cropping up with this group.
"I have raised some money for John," Torricelli said at the time. "I have known him for many years and probably have contributed to most members of the Democratic caucus. I don't have a role in the campaign nor am I seeking one."
Dean was not so willing to dismiss the connections.
In February, before he dropped out of the race and endorsed Kerry, he said Kerry supported President Bush not only on Iraq, "but Sen. Kerry apparently also supports the kind of politically corrupt fund-raising mechanisms that George Bush has also employed."
"I have not heard of a case where other candidates have their supporters contribute to a secret political action group to run ads … with pictures of Osama bin Laden and so forth, unattributed ads, attacking another candidate. I have not heard of that happening before," Dean said.
"I'm sorry to see Sen. Kerry introduce those techniques to the Democratic Party. The link is unassailable," Dean declared. "The same fund-raiser who was ethically challenged and had to step aside from a Senate race because of that, raised money from the same donors to support both Sen. Kerry and the political action group."
Campaigning for a local candidate in Florida this week, Dean issued similar language — except this time the subject of his wrath was, not surprisingly, Bush.
Bush Campaign's Ties to Swift Boat Veterans
The denial of any coordination by both the Kerry campaign and those behind Americans for Jobs, Health Care and Progressive Values is important not just for moral or political reasons — it is a legal matter.