Independent Groups' Big Role in Politics

"If there was coordination between the groups and the parties or candidates it would be illegal, and it would involve in some cases many millions of dollars of illegal contributions," said Fred Wertheimer of the good-government group Democracy 21. He has lodged legal complaints with the FEC against both liberal and conservative 527s.

The FEC complaint Kerry filed against Swift Boats for Veterans says "based on recent press reports and SBVT's own statements there is overwhelming evidence that SBVT is coordinating its expenditures on advertising and other activities designed to influence the presidential election with the Bush-Cheney campaign."

The anti-Kerry veterans deny any coordination whatsoever. "We are our own people," retired Adm. Roy Hoffmann told ABC News. "We have absolutely no connection" to the Republican Party or the Bush campaign, he said.

For evidence of coordination, Kerry's campaign points to not only Ginsberg but the group's biggest donor, Perry, the Texas Republican who gave the group $200,000. Perry, a friend of Bush adviser Rove since at least 1986, has also donated generously to the various campaigns of George W. Bush and other family members.

Another Texas Republican, Merrie Spaeth, has done public relations for the group and for the Bush administration. The group hired as a business manager Susan Arceneau, the treasurer of the political action committee belonging to former House Majority Leader Dick Armey, R-Texas.

The Bush campaign denies any collusion with the group at all. Last Saturday, after it was pointed out that retired Air Force Col. Ken Cordier, a member of the Bush-Cheney campaign's veterans steering committee, appears in the latest TV ad from the anti-Kerry veterans, the campaign dismissed Cordier.

Democratic Ties Closer?

But the Bush campaign charges there are much stronger ties between Kerry's campaign and left-leaning 527s than on the Republican side of the aisle. Moreover, liberal 527s have out-raised their conservative counterparts by a ratio of 14-to-1.

"It is somewhat hypocritical of the Democrats to allege that there's serious coordination on the Republican side when there have been some very serious allegations of coordination on the Democratic side," said Larry Noble of the Center for Responsive Politics. "If you look at the Democrats in these independent groups, these are people who have had in the past and have now close ties to the political party, and close ties to the campaign so you see it on both sides."

The Kerry campaign was once run by Jim Jordan. But last November he left the campaign and now helps to run two liberal 527s, Americans Coming Together, or ACT, and The Media Fund. Gibbs — the former Kerry campaign who worked for Americans for Jobs, Health Care, and Progressive Values — also now works for ACT.

Harold Ickes, former deputy chief of staff in the Clinton White House, advises both ACT and the Democratic National Committee, which works directly with the Kerry campaign. Bob Bauer gives legal advice to ACT, worked for the Kerry campaign until a few months ago, and is now paid by the DNC to give the Kerry campaign legal advice. Bill Knapp made ads for The Media Fund and now makes ads for Kerry. Minyon Moore, a founder of ACT, spearheads the Kerry campaign's minority outreach program.

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