Wednesday, October 11, 2006

As Election Nears, Groups Plan Negative Ads

The New York Times
As Election Nears, Groups Plan Negative Ads

WASHINGTON, Oct. 10 — A previously unknown group led by a Republican political consultant in Houston is financing television advertisements against nine Democratic House candidates from North Carolina to Arizona.

The group, Americans for Honesty on Issues, is spending more than $1 million on the advertisements, which accuse Democratic candidates of carpetbagging, coddling illegal immigrants, being soft on crime and advocating cutting off money for troops in Iraq.

The television spots appear to be the first wave of a boatload of negative political advertising that will appear in the weeks before the Nov. 7 election. Many of the advertisements will be produced by independent organizations known as 527 groups, after the provision in the tax code that allows such groups to spend virtually unlimited sums on political activity as long as it is not formally coordinated with parties or candidates.

The 527 groups had raised nearly $200 million as of June 30, much of which appears to be available to be spent on pre-election activities. And if past trends hold, the total raised and spent by the groups on this election will surpass $300 million, eclipsing the $258 million spent by such groups in the last midterm election, in 2002.

The increase is striking because the campaign finance law enacted in 2002 now forbids federal elected officials and candidates from operating their own 527 groups. In 2002, committees maintained by such officials raised about a third of the total dollars for the groups.

The leader of Americans for Honesty on Issues is Sue Walden, a close ally of Tom DeLay, the former House majority leader who left Congress amid questions on ethics and fund-raising. Ms. Walden has also raised money for President Bush and served as an adviser to Kenneth L. Lay, the former chief executive of Enron who died in July.

She referred a call seeking comment to Glenn M. Willard, a lawyer with Patton Boggs in Washington, who drew up the papers establishing the organization. Mr. Willard confirmed that Ms. Walden was the nominal head of the committee, but he declined to identify the group’s donors or say how much it planned to spend.

The group’s Web site does not give an address or phone number, nor does it list any of the officers or sponsors. It says only, “Americans for Honesty on Issues is organized to engage in political issue communications in compliance with federal and state laws.”

Democrats, generously financed by labor unions and rich individuals like George Soros, dominated the 527 field in the presidential election of 2004, when such groups raised and spent more than $650 million. But Democratic groups have been relatively quiet this year, in part because big donors like Mr. Soros are giving much less money.

One Democratic 527 group, Majority Action, announced this week that it would run advertisements in four Congressional districts criticizing incumbent Republican House members for voting against federal financing for stem cell research.

The advertisements will focus on Representatives Chris Chocola of Indiana, Thelma Drake of Virginia, Don Sherwood of Pennsylvania and James T. Walsh of New York.

Total spending on the 60-second advertisements will be about $500,000, said Bill Buck, spokesman for Majority Action. The group’s founders include Joe Andrew and Don Fowler, former chairmen of the Democratic National Committee.

Another Democratic 527 organization, the September Group, founded by the longtime party operative Harold M. Ickes, is planning a late burst of anti-Republican spending, said Howard Wolfson, a political consultant working with the group. But Mr. Wolfson would not say how much money the group had raised nor how it intended to spend it.

Emily’s List, which supports Democratic candidates at the state and federal level, reported raising $3 million and spending nearly $2 million from July through September. Among its major donors are Linda Pritzker, a member of the family that owns the Hyatt hotel chain; Alida Messinger, a Rockefeller; Lee Fikes, a Texas oilman; and Mr. Soros.

Among the most active Republican 527 groups is the Economic Freedom Fund, which was formed this year and received a $5 million contribution from Bob J. Perry, a major Bush donor and an underwriter of the Swift boat veterans group in 2004. The fund is running advertisements on behalf of Republican candidates in Georgia, Indiana, Iowa, Oregon and West Virginia.

Aron Pilhofer and Kitty Bennett contributed research.