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Breaking: Swift Boat donor Simmons financing new anti-Obama ads

August 22, 2008 |  6:56 pm

(UPDATE: We have published new information below)

Texas billionaire Harold Simmons, a major backer of John McCain’s presidential campaign and Swift Boat Veterans for Truth four years ago, is the sole donor to an ad attacking Barack Obama over his relationship wiTexas billionaire Harold Simmons helped finance the 2004 Swift Boat ads and is now backing the new new anti-Barack Obama adsth William Ayers, founder of a militant group.

A campaign finance filing with the Federal Election Commission shows Simmons donated the entire $2.87 million being used by a newly formed group, American Issues Project, to air the commercials in Ohio and Michigan during the next week.

Simmons was one of the biggest funders of Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, giving $3 million to the group that attacked John Kerry over his Vietnam service. He is No. 43 on Forbes' list of the richest Americans, with a worth estimated at $7.4 billion.

In this campaign, Simmons has given the maximum allowed under federal law to McCain’s presidential campaign -- $2,300.

In April, Simmons gave $7,500 to the Republican National Committee and $7,500 to a committee established by McCain to funnel donations to state Republican parties to aid his general election.

The 60-second ad opens with Obama giving a speech, then asks how much voters know about him. From there, it bores in on his relationship with Ayers, a University of Illinois at Chicago professor who more than 30 years ago was deeply involved in radical leftist politics advocating violence.

The spot notes that the Sept. 11 hijackers failed to crash one of the hijacked jets into the U.S. Capitol and says that 30 years earlier the Weather Underground detonated a bomb in the Capitol.

"Why would Barack Obama be friends with someone who bombed the Capitol and is proud of it?" the ad asks.

Ayers spent years on the run. After he surrendered in 1980, charges against him were dropped because of prosecutorial misconduct.

McCain's campaign has denied any involvement in the ad.

Under federal law, it would be illegal for McCain to be involved in the spot. Obama's campaign has raised the possibility that there is a connection, noting that a board member of the group was a paid McCain consultant earlier in the campaign.

*Update:

Obama attorney Robert F. Bauer charged in a letter to the Justice Department that American Issues Project is engaged in a “willful attempt to evade the strictures of federal election law.” The group claims tax-exempt status. Bauer noted that the law limits the ability of such committees to expressly advocate for the defeat or election of a candidate. ...

Instead, the group should be operating as a political organization. But federal law caps the size of donations to such groups, which would have precluded Simmons from donating the $2.87 million to it.

“We urge and expect the Department of Justice to fulfill its commitment to take prompt, vigorous action to enforce against criminal violations of the campaign finance laws,” Bauer’s letter said.

Separately, Obama’s attacks the ad as “demonstrably false,” and labeled the spot as “crude, disreputable and malicious attempt to link Sen. Obama to domestic terrorist activities.” The national Fox New network has declined to air it, but several Fox affiliates in Ohio and Michigan are showing it, said Christian Pinkston, the consultant working for American Issues.

Pinkston scoffed at the charges, saying: “These people need to study election law. It is totally legal. You can be sure we vetted and vetted and vetted it again.”

Meanwhile, Times researcher Maloy Moore found that in addition to giving $2.87 million to the latest effort, Simmons, a corporate take-over specialist once nicknamed the Ice Man, has donated at least $4.5 million to federal campaigns in the past decade.

McCain’s campaign discloses on its website that Simmons has raised between $50,000 and $100,000 for the candidate.

Simmons also has given direct contributions to McCain and McCain-related committees totaling $17,300 since the presidential campaign began last year. A political action committee affiliated with one of Simmons’ companies has donated another $18,500 to McCain.

-- Dan Morain

Photo credit: Tom Fox / Associated Press

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