John McCain is an early beneficiary of campaign laws expected to bring hundreds of millions of dollars in “soft money” into the 2008 presidential race.
The newly formed Foundation for a Secure and Prosperous America has begun running a TV commercial in South Carolina urging citizens to support the Wounded Warriors Act, which seeks to improve healthcare for veterans.
But the commercial also contains glowing images of McCain, who is hopeful that a victory in the South Carolina primary will jump-start his campaign, and the ad was financed mostly by McCain supporters.
The real story behind the commercial: The group running the South Carolina ad is registered as a 501(c)(4) nonprofit corporation, and as such, it is permitted to raise unlimited amounts of money from individuals, without any disclosure, “as long as it can argue that it is more concerned with the promotion of an issue — like the final passage of the Wounded Warriors bill — than the election of a candidate,” according to the New York Times.
The group was founded by Rick Reed, a long-time McCain strategist whose firm helped produce the 2004 swift boat ads that questioned Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry’s Vietnam War record. Reed worked for McCain’s 2000 presidential campaign and briefly for his current effort.
Reed’s group’s spending on the Wounded Warriors ads is modest, with the spot airing on the Fox News Channel in South Carolina only. But it is likely to be followed by the hundreds of millions of dollars that are expected to pour in from all sides, and “the amount could swamp the record-breaking tens of millions that the top candidates are raising for their own, closely regulated campaign accounts,” the Times reports.
Already, a group including financier George Soros and Hollywood producer Steve Bing has met in Washington to discuss ways of channeling money into ads and get-out-the-vote efforts on behalf of the Democratic nominee.
McCain — co-sponsor of the 2002 McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform law — called on Reed’s group to cease its efforts, although he said on “Fox News Sunday”:
“I have not called Rick Reed because I don’t know what his involvement is.”
McCain’s opponents, however, called his condemnation “disingenuous,” according to the Times.
Mitt Romney spokesman Kevin Madden said: “Isn’t it ironic that the author and champion of the McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform bill now has a soft-money effort created on his behalf?”
The South Carolina nonprofit group’s activities are largely a result of a recent change in campaign finance regulation.
In June, the Supreme Court struck down a ban in the McCain-Feingold law on political ads by corporations and nonprofit groups within 30 days of a primary and 60 days of a general election, ruling that such ads were protected by the right to free speech.
The decision, the Times observed, “made nonprofit corporations, with their few disclosure requirements, the tool of choice for big donors looking to influence elections because of their wide latitude to advertise.”
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