It is always open season in politics. Want to shoot down a governor? Backstab a political ally? Take a pot shot at a congressman? Go gunning for a candidate? Have at it, but know that there are still rules to observe, especially when it involves campaigning.
The New York Times reports that senators Lindsay Graham (R-S.C.) and Joe Lieberman (I-CT) have had to resign as policy advisors from the independent group Vets for Freedom because of such rules. Both men hold positions in the McCain presidential campaign and, in an ironic twist, seem to have run afoul of the McCain-Feingold Act (actually, it is the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002) that prohibits the association or affiliation of a person within a political campaign organization with independent political groups that promote or oppose a candidate. This follows the resignation of campaign consultant Craig Shirley earlier in May who was found to have been paid by a 527 group opposing Senator Barack Obama.
Vets for Freedom is a 501 (c) (4) — a tax code designation — nonprofit organization that advocates for victory in Iraq and Afghanistan. They have begun posting internet ads of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans denouncing Senator Obama’s position of withdrawal from Iraq. They also heavily criticize Senator Obama for his reluctance to meet with American military leaders, such as General David Petraeus, but vocally admits to wanting to sit down to talks with anti-American world leaders, such as Iran’s Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Cuba’s Raul Castro. Thus far, the group has released two videos on the internet.
Negative campaign ads are nothing new, of course. But McCain-Feingold is relatively new and promotes a fairness doctrine with regard to campaign organizations and with whom they are affiliated. But negative ads, whether endorsed by political organizations such as the Republican National Committee or the groups like Vets for Freedom, can be and are rather effective at times.
In the 2004 presidential campaign, a 527 group called the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth released a series of ads questioning the veracity of Senator John Kerry with regard to his military service in Vietnam. Within a few weeks after the videos began to air, Senator Kerry’s poll numbers plummeted and his campaign never recovered. The videos, composed of Vietnam veterans who served with Senator Kerry, disputed his war record and the actions that led to his being awarded the Purple Hearts he was decorated with for his service in Vietnam.
Yet, they do not work all the time. Recently, when the Republican National Committee aired anti-Obama ads preceding the North Carolina Primary that highlighted Senator Obama’s controversial relationship with the Reverend Jeremiah Wright, it did not seem to help the Republican candidates (or Senator Hillary Clinton) in their bids for various offices.
But that does not take away from the fact that they have the potential to be extremely effective, like the “Swift Boat” ads. In fact, those particular ads were so effective in turning public sentiment that they introduced a new term into the lexicon of political jargon for attacking a rival candidate: “swiftboating.”
In other news that Senator McCain is running afoul of his own legislation, CNN and the Los Angeles Times reported that the McCain campaign switched venues for a fundraiser in Arizona to be hosted by Senator John McCain and president George W. Bush. Sources were saying that tickets for the campaign fundraiser were not selling as well as expected, so the venue was changed from a public facility, the much larger Phoenix Convention Center, to a smaller, private home. The McCain camp denies that the tickets to the fundraiser were not selling well (as one would expect them to do), stating they wished to hold a less formal affair with the switch. But actions such as these lead many political analysts to question whether the campaign financing restrictions of McCain-Feingold are hurting the very Senator who helped design the legislation.
But will any of this hurt McCain’s chances for his presidential bid? It is certainly possible. A campaign’s lifeblood is its financing. Countering political ads can be extremely important and having to hope for and rely upon independently produced ads can be tricky, not to mention unproductive and cause for political distancing at times. And it certainly does not help McCain’s reputation that his campaign roster keeps finding itself in conflict of interest with legislation bearing his own name.
Michael Luo, “2 Senators for McCain Leave Group After Ads,” NYTimes.com
Andrew Malcolm, “At John McCain’s fundraiser tonight, a pin can be had for $2300,” LATimes.com