Conservatives 527, John Kerry 0
The campaign 2004 indignities continued this week for Senator John Kerry. On Tuesday, Kerry's Foreign Relations Committee confronted Sam Fox, the President's nominee for ambassador to Belgium, also a Bush "Pioneer" and a $50,000 contributor to the Swift Boat Vets in 2004. And on Wednesday, Kerry learned that the Federal Election Commission slapped a record $750,000 fine on Progress for America, a conservative 527 group which spent almost $30 million on President Bush's reelection.
The Fox confirmation hearings proceeded uneventfully, at least until Kerry decided to challenge the qualifications of a smear merchant for an ambassadorial post. Kerry asked Fox, "Might I ask you what your opinion is with respect to the state of American politics as regards the politics of personal destruction," continuing, "so is that your judgment that you would bring to the ambassadorship, that two wrongs make a right?"
An unapologetic Fox responded, "I did it because politically it's necessary if the other side's doing it." Seeking to deflect his 2004 Swift Boat attack machine that devastated Kerry's candidacy, Fox disingenuously offered "Sir, you're a hero," adding that no 527 group "can take that away from you."
Meanwhile, another Kerry foe was escaping culpability for its 2004 with a slap on the wrist, albeit a large one. The FEC ruled that the Progress for America Voter Fund violated federal election law, operating not as a 527 organization but instead as a political action committee. POA spent $26 million in advertising for President Bush in battleground states, including a $16 million buy just for its "Ashley's Story" ad showing the President consoling a girl whose mother died in the World Trade Center attacks. As the New York Times describe, the FEC concluded:
Its actions violated campaign laws because it was not registered as a political action committee that would be subject to strict limits on donations. The agency said it circumvented a ban on corporate money and accepted contributions that well exceeded the caps on individual donations.
Like the Swift Boat bagman Sam Fox, the PFA was unbowed and unapologetic. Benjamin Ginsburg, a Republican lawyer and counsel for the PFA in this case, admitted no wrongdoing and lashed out at the FEC:
"Today's settlement brings to close a disappointing chapter in the evolution of election law. Despite Congressional pressure to impose some set of rules or provide guidance for so called '527' groups, the FEC still refuses to do so. Given the ambiguous legal nature of this situation and the cost of litigating this dispute, PFA-VF has decided it is a more prudent use of its resources and energy to conclude this proceeding."
And for Kerry, the sad 2004 ironies continue. The PFA's Ginsburg is the same Benjamin Ginsburg who resigned from the Bush/Cheney campaign in August 2004 over conflict of interest allegations involving another of his pet projects: the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth. (Last December, the Swift Boat vets were similarly fined $300,000 by the FEC.)
As always, the right-wing hatchet man Ginsburg did not give up without a fight. Given the damage his Swift Boat fanatics did in 2004, John Kerry should have followed his example.