Bush Joins McCain in 527 Ad Challenge
Bush Joins McCain in 527 Ad Challenge (Dana Milbank, WaPo)
The White House announced this morning that Bush campaign would take legal action to force the Federal Election Commission to crack down on so-called 527 organizations that use a loophole in campaign-finance law to spend unregulated funds. White House press secretary Scott McClellan announced aboard Air Force One that the campaign would join Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) in a lawsuit against the FEC. McCain had tried to block the 527s with a complaint to the FEC, but because that body did not act on the complaint in 120 days, opponents of the 527s can now go to the courts. “The president said he wanted to work together [with McCain] to pursue court action to shut down all the ads and activity by these shadowy 527 groups,” McClellan said after Bush spoke to McCain by telephone this morning.
The issue of the 527 groups has gained prominence because of the ads by Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, an organization that has challenged Democratic presidential nominee John F. Kerry’s Vietnam War record. President Bush has declined a request by both Kerry and McCain to denounce that group specifically, saying he is opposed to all 527 groups, which are named for the section of the tax code that governs them. Republicans have been moving aggressively in recent months to establish 527 organizations to raise money to compete with Democratic 527s, which have already spent tens of millions of dollars in ads attacking Bush.
The action promised today by McClellan is largely symbolic. There is virtually no chance that a lawsuit could be resolved before the Nov. 2 election. But the Bush campaign is eager to regain its footing on the issue after Benjamin L. Ginsberg, the chief outside counsel to the campaign, resigned Wednesday after revealing that he had done work for the Swift Boat group. The campaign had denied any ties between it and the Swift boat veterans group. McClellan said Bush’s call to McCain was intended to relieve the senator’s publicly voiced concern about the two presidential campaigns making an issue of the Vietnam War. But Bush did not offer the specific condemnation of the Swift Boat group that McCain had sought.
While I agree with Jeff Goldstein, Greg Ransom, and others that trying to halt the 527s is tantamount to trying to halt free speech, I don’t disagree with the move here. While 527s are technically permissible under McCain-Feingold, the use to which they have come clearly violates the intent of the law. The president has an obligation to try to enforce the law–especially when he signed the law in question. Perhaps by exposing the idiocy that is campaign finance reform we’ll end the charade once and for all.