Bush calls for end to outside groups' ads

No specific mention made of campaign commercials attacking Kerry's service

August 24, 2004|By KNIGHT RIDDER/TRIBUNE

CRAWFORD, Texas - President Bush, facing new questions about ads attacking the military service of his Democratic rival, urged an end yesterday to the "tons of money" he said were being poured into the presidential campaign by outside groups.

Still, Bush again declined to specifically denounce ads run by the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth that accuse John Kerry of lying about his military service and betraying fellow veterans by alleging widespread U.S. atrocities in Vietnam. Instead, the president reiterated that he wants all outside ads off the air.

"That means that ad, every other ad," Bush said.

"They're bad for the system," he said, denouncing the so-called "527 organizations" that have been formed under that section of the tax code to help, or hurt, one presidential contender or the other.

The Kerry campaign has fought back with its own campaign commercial, dismissing the attacks as "smears" and "lies" and urging Bush to denounce them.

"The moment of truth came and went, and the president still couldn't bring himself to do the right thing," said Kerry's running mate, North Carolina Sen. John Edwards. "We need a president with the strength and integrity to say when something is wrong."

The Swift Boat Veterans continue to air their ad - and a second one just as critical - and the Kerry campaign continues to cry foul. The Democrats contend that the Bush camp has coordinated with the veterans - a charge that, if true, would violate the new campaign finance law.

The White House denies it. But, in the meantime, the din of the charges and countercharges has swamped discussion of most other issues.

Yesterday, Bush, who's spending a week at his ranch preparing for next week's Republican convention in New York, conferred all morning with Vice President Dick Cheney, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and other national security advisers to discuss Iraq and other world hotspots. But when they met later with reporters, the most pressing questions were about attacks on Kerry.

"We ought to be debating who best to be leading this country in the war against terror," Bush suggested. "We ought to be looking forward instead of backward."

The Bush campaign has contended that it has been targeted by $63 million worth of attack advertising by groups supporting Kerry. Those ads have helped supplement Kerry's campaign, which is now limited to spending the $75 million in public financing it received after the Massachusetts senator formally accepted his party's presidential nomination at the recent Democratic National Convention.

The Swift Boat Veterans for Truth had spent about $452,000 on advertising in Ohio, Wisconsin and West Virginia through Saturday, according to the political ad-tracking TNS Media Intelligence/CMAG.

While both campaigns have tried to move forward to some degree with discussion of current issues, Kerry also has been forced to try to deflect the negativity of the swift-boat ads. The intense criticism of his military record has come after he promoted that record during the Democratic convention in an effort to show that he can be a wartime commander in chief.

While Democrats acknowledge that Kerry's campaign has been dented by the swift-boat attack ads, they also believe the campaign can turn those problems around if it can demonstrate a pattern of negative campaigning by Bush forces. That is the focus of the Kerry campaign's latest TV ad, contending Sen. John McCain, an Arizona Republican, dealt with similar "smears" about his war record during the 2000 GOP presidential primary season.

Kerry's campaign has maintained in a formal complaint filed with the Federal Election Commission that the Bush campaign has illegal ties to the swift-boat veterans group. The Bush campaign has denied any coordination of activities between itself and the veterans' group, which would be illegal, and had previously filed a complaint alleging collusion between the Kerry campaign and personnel affiliated with Democratic-aligned groups. The Kerry campaign also has denied any illegal coordination.

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