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Legal News: Law Blog - WSJ.com
In Campaign Ad Spat, Obama Lawyer Calls on AG?s Office
By Dan Slater
When we visited the nation’s capital a couple months back we called on Bob Bauer, Barack Obama’s campaign lawyer at Perkins Coie, to see if he could meet and chat a bit about the campaign and election law. But Mr. Bauer never returned our calls (why didn’t you call back, Bob?), so we settled for Justice Scalia.
We thought about Mr. Bauer (pictured) today while reading through reports of what’s being thought of as the 2008 “Swift Boat” redux. Here’s what happened: Texas billionaire Harold Simmons, one of the main funders of the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth who targeted John Kerry in the 2004 election, was the lone financier of an ad by the American Issues Project that links Obama to William Ayers, the 1960’s radical who helped found the Weather Underground organization that took credit for a series of bombings, including non-fatal explosions at the Pentagon and the Capitol.
“Barack Obama is friends with Ayers, defending him as, quote, ‘Respectable’ and ‘Mainstream,’” the ad states. “Obama’s political career was launched in Ayers’ home. And the two served together on a left-wing board. Why would Barack Obama be friends with someone who bombed the Capitol and is proud of it? Do you know enough to elect Barack Obama?” (Click here to see the ad on YouTube and here for the Politico story that influenced the ad.)
Obama spokesman Tommy Vietor called the ad false, despicable and outrageous. The Obama people, hoping to avoid Kerry’s fate, not only aired a response to the ad, but also returned legal fire. And here’s where our friend Mr. Bauer comes in.
In what appears to be a fairly routine cease and desist letter to station managers, he wrote: “Your station is committed to operating in the public interest, an objective that cannot be satisfied by accepting for compensation material of such malicious falsity.” Bauer also reportedly called on the DOJ, writing to Deputy Assistant AG John C. Keeney that the ad is a “knowing and willful attempt to evade the strictures of federal election law.”
The American Issues Project is a 501(c)4 nonprofit, the AP writes, meaning it can air a political ad provided that the majority of its spending is nonpolitical. It cannot accept money from corporations and it must identify the donors that finance its ads in reports to the FEC. Christian Pinkston, a spokesman for the AIP, said the group has set aside money to carry out non-election related work to meet the legal requirements. It filed a report identifying Simmons as its sole donor for the ad last week.
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