Party unity

From Charles Lewis, director of the Center for Public Integrity and author of The Buying of the President 2004.

On November 7, 2003, a strange new group no one had ever heard of called “Americans for Jobs & Healthcare” was quietly formed and soon thereafter began running a million dollar operation including political ads against then-frontrunner Democratic presidential candidate Howard Dean. The commercials ripped Dean over his positions or past record on gun rights, trade and Medicare growth. But the most inflammatory ad used the visual image of Osama bin Laden as a way to raise questions about Dean’s foreign policy credibility. While the spots ran, Americans for Jobs-through its then- spokesman, Robert Gibbs, a former Kerry campaign employee-refused to disclose its donors.

The Dean campaign cried foul, but no one, including the news media, could figure out exactly who was behind “Americans for Jobs.” The disturbing mystery was partly solved by Jim VandeHei of the Washington Post on February 11, after reviewing public Internal Revenue Service records filed under Section 527 of federal tax law. Unfortunately for voters and the general public, that legal disclosure information was filed January 30, 2004, nine days after the Iowa caucuses in which Massachusetts Senator John Kerry upset former Vermont governor Howard Dean. Those contribution records were updated again with another $337,000 in donations on March 4, 2004, for a total of exactly $1 million that the group raised.

The most stunning single fact to emerge-which should have been covered more heavily nationwide and was first broken by the Web site that disgraced former Senator Robert Torricelli, severely admonished for his unsavory campaign finance practices and forced to leave the Senate, had quietly donated $50,000 from his old Senate campaign account to Americans for Jobs. Torricelli reportedly also is a fundraiser for Senator Kerry’s presidential campaign.

Why is one of the sleaziest former public officials helping Senator Kerry collect campaign cash? And now that Torricelli and other Kerry campaign donors have been “outed” for supporting the controversial group, why hasn’t Kerry been directly asked about the entire controversy? Indeed, why hasn’t the avowed campaign finance reformer publicly criticized either the caper or Torricelli? Kerry and his campaign staff declined to answer these and other related, on-the-record questions from the Center for Public Integrity. A Kerry spokesman, Chad Clanton, was quoted in the Washington Post as saying that “I am told no one knew anything about it.”

Americans for Jobs was a street rumble after dark, in which donors or fundraisers for the major Democratic presidential candidates then overshadowed by Dean-Kerry, Rep. Richard Gephardt, and retired General Wesley Clark- all piled on. Labor unions that had publicly endorsed Gephardt accounted for a fifth of the money-the International Longshoremen’s Association ($50,000), the Laborers’ International Union of North America ($50,000), the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers ($100,000), the International Association of Ironworkers ($25,000) and the International Brotherhood of Boilermakers ($5,000). A former Dean donor, former Slim-Fast Foods businessman S. Daniel Abraham, gave $200,000. Past Kerry donor Bernard Schwartz, chairman of Loral Space and Communications-the tenth leading donor to the Democratic Party, giving $5.3 million over the years-chipped in $15,000. A top money chaser for Wesley Clark, Alan Patricof, also donated to this shadowy group.

Indeed, a Center for Public Integrity study of the 28 contributors to Americans for Jobs found that they have given more than $8.7 million to the Democratic Party in recent years and another $550,000 to the committees of those running for president.

Among the greatest beneficiaries of these donations was Gephardt, who received more than $417,000. In fact, at least 23 of the 28 people contributing to Americans for Jobs had donated to Gephardt in the past. Some of the donors are also aligned with Kerry and gave almost $60,000 to his campaigns over the years.

Four of these 28 individual contributors had also given $7,200 to Dean between March and July of 2003. One of the donors told the Center that he had no idea the money would be used on attack ads. Rick Sloan, the communications director for International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, told the LA Times: “I tell you, these ads are despicable. If I have my way, we’ll ask for a refund.” But following his remarks published on December 17, 2003, his labor union is reported to have made another donation to Americans for Jobs for $50,000 on January 9, 2004.

Who exactly forms a stealth, hit-and-run operation in presidential politics today, up and down in six weeks, doing $1 million worth of damage in advertising and other spending before the new federal, 30-day broadcast limit on political issue ads by outside groups kicked in December 21?

Here’s the rest.