RNC tells TV stations not to run anti-Bush ads
GOP committee says MoveOn.org's spots are illegally financed
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The Republican National Committee is warning television stations across the country not to run ads from the MoveOn.org Voter Fund that criticize President Bush, charging that the left-leaning political group is paying for them with money raised in violation of the new campaign-finance law.
"As a broadcaster licensed by the Federal Communications Commission, you have a responsibility to the viewing public, and to your licensing agency, to refrain from complicity in any illegal activity," said the RNC's chief counsel, Jill Holtzman Vogel, in a letter sent to about 250 stations Friday.
"Now that you have been apprised of the law, to prevent further violations of federal law, we urge you to remove these advertisements from your station's broadcast rotation."
But MoveOn.org's lawyer, Joseph Sandler, said in a statement that the ads were funded legally, calling the RNC's letter "a complete misrepresentation of the law."
"The federal campaign laws have permitted precisely this use of money for advertising for the past 25 years," he said.
And MoveOn.org, which was planning to spend $1.9 million on an ad buy that started Thursday, said Friday that it would spend another $1 million.
'Soft money' targeted
The RNC charges that because the ads are designed to help defeat President Bush, the group cannot pay for them with unlimited "soft money" contributions but only with contributions raised in amounts less than $5,000.
Although MoveOn.org is a so-called "Section 527" organization that is legally allowed to raise soft money in unlimited amounts from donors, the new campaign-finance law prohibits the group from using those funds to pay for ads that directly attack Bush, Vogel said.
And in a bit of political one-upmanship, the letter quotes the presumptive Democratic nominee, Sen. John Kerry, as saying that the objective of the new law "is to eliminate altogether the capacity of soft money to play the role that it does in our politics."
But MoveOn.org says it has raised $10 million for advertising from 160,000 donors, in amounts averaging $50-$60. It is running two ads in 67 TV markets in what its Web site describes as 17 "battleground" states.
"It's not surprising that [RNC Chairman] Ed Gillespie continues to make false claims about the legality of our campaign in order to silence us," Wes Boyd, president of the voter fund, said in a statement. "Our lawyers continue to assure us that our advertising, and the small contributions from tens of thousands of our members that pay for it, conform in every way to existing campaign-finance laws."
The group maintains that a recent ruling from the Federal Election Commission supports the method it is using to fund the ads. But in her letter to the stations, Vogel said that FEC ruling makes it clear that any ad that "promotes, supports, attacks or opposes" a federal candidate comes under the contribution limits, which she charges MoveOn is violating.
One of the ads, called "Worker," ends with the tag line, "George Bush. He's not on our side." The other, called "Child's Play," shows small children working at various jobs and ends with the tag line, "Guess who's going to pay off President Bush's $1 trillion deficit?"
RNC: Problem with funding, not content
Vogel insisted that the RNC's problem with the ads stemmed from their funding, not their content.
"I write not because of the misleading allegations contained in the advertisement, which will be answered in due time, but because running this advertisement breaks the law," Vogel's letter said.
MoveOn.org has been running ads for several months on cable channels, which don't fall under FCC regulations. However, CBS refused to broadcast the group's ads during the Super Bowl, saying the network did not run issue advertising.
MoveOn.org and other groups trying to defeat Bush have been raising money to help the Democratic nominee compete with the president's vast war chest in the period between the end of the Democratic primaries and the political conventions. The Bush-Cheney campaign, which launched its first ad salvo this week, has more than $100 million to spend.
The RNC has complained that though it is no longer allowed to use soft money for campaigning, MoveOn.org is accepting large soft money contributions from a cadre of wealthy donors, including billionaire financier George Soros and film producer Steven Bing, in its quest to defeat the president.
Soros has said ousting Bush this year is now the "central focus of my life."