Skip to comments.Violations alleged in Senate race (Thune, Daschle camps trade accusations on breaking campaign law)
Posted on 05/16/2004 2:54:07 PM PDT by Libloather
Violations alleged in Senate race
Argus Leader Washington Bureau
Thune, Daschle camps trade accusations about breaking campaign law
WASHINGTON - Forget about lawn signs and television commercials. The latest weapon in the South Dakota Senate race is a law book.
With new campaign finance rules in place for the first time in almost three decades, political strategists hope to exploit alleged violations by their rivals to gain an edge in the contest, which may be the tightest Senate race in the nation.
Now, aides to Republican candidate John Thune say fliers mailed to advertise this month's South Dakota Technology Summit, hosted by Senate Democratic leader Tom Daschle, violated campaign finance laws because Daschle's name and picture are featured.
The summit, which Daschle has hosted every year since 2001, brings together South Dakota business representatives in an effort to help the state capture high-tech jobs.
Thune's campaign contends the mailing is a backdoor way of promoting Daschle by using the corporate money that will pay for the conference. Under new campaign rules that took effect in November 2002, candidates are no longer allowed to work with outside groups - such as the tech-summit organizers - on mailings or ads that refer to candidates within 120 days of a primary or general election.
The fliers were sent in April. Because of South Dakota's June 1 primary, the mailing might be illegal, election law experts said. Both Daschle's campaign and the companies that paid for the mailing could face heavy fines if federal officials find a violation. The tech summit and Daschle's appearance at the event are legal and would not be affected.
Thune would not comment on the charge. Daschle would not respond to it, either. His advisers said they think the mailing is entirely legal, because neither Daschle nor Thune are on the ballot in the June 1 primary.
Thune's campaign manager, Dick Wadhams, said the campaign probably would not file a complaint with the Federal Election Commission, which referees disputes over election law. That would be the only way to determine whether the mailings were illegal.
But Wadhams said Daschle should not even be bumping up against the election law's edge, since he helped pass the campaign finance reform bill in the Senate.
"He voted for this bill, he supported it, he should know," Wadhams said. "He deserves to be held publicly accountable for, at best, hypocrisy. But at worst ... he has clearly violated federal election law."
Daschle aides ridiculed the charge.
"This false allegation is without merit and shows just how desperate John Thune is nearly six months before Election Day," said Daschle spokesman Dan Pfeiffer.
The Daschle campaign provided several examples of what aides said was identical conduct by groups supporting Thune, which could also be illegal under the same law. For instance, a newspaper ad promoting Thune's appearance at a Fellowship of Christian Athletes dinner in Huron featured Thune's picture, just as the tech summit mailing featured Daschle's.
Since the new campaign rules are largely untested, election law experts say there are plenty of gray areas
When Congress wrote the campaign law, lawmakers probably didn't imagine something like the tech summit, said Jan Baran, a former general counsel to the Republican National Committee and a lawyer specializing in campaigns and elections. But that doesn't mean the mailings aren't a problem.
"It's probably yet another one of those ... boomerang effects, but it's an issue that simply cannot be summarily dismissed," Baran said. "Otherwise, every senator up for election will be encouraging corporate and union sponsors to have these type of promotional events."
Organizers of the tech summit said they had no idea the mailings might be illegal. They emphasized that Daschle is not the summit's main focus.
"Hopefully, we can keep this event focused on the opportunities for South Dakota and not on the election," said Rich Naser of the South Dakota Technology Business Center, a summit sponsor.
The upshot of the uncertainty about how federal officials will enforce the new laws is that campaigns are constantly policing each other.
The charges and countercharges regarding the tech summit mailings were the latest in a flurry of election law allegations.
Two weeks ago, Daschle's campaign stopped a series of automated phone calls it had paid for when the Thune campaign pointed out that they were illegal.
This week, Daschle aides protested a Thune ad in a Brown County GOP Lincoln Day dinner program, which also lacked the required disclaimer.
Before Thune declared his candidacy, Democrats questioned his political activity last year, which he paid for out of a mostly dormant bank account that he opened in 2002 when he was thinking about running for governor.
All the jockeying over election laws probably won't influence voters much, analysts said.
"It's like trying to decide when spaghetti is cooked - you throw it up on the wall and see when it sticks," said Stu Rothenberg, editor of the nonpartisan Rothenberg Political Report in Washington.
What is it with RATS and breaking the law?
When John Thune ran against Johnson in the last election, didn't the dems round up every indian (dead or alive) in the state to vote for Johnson?
The dems (the daschle camp) are just mad because they already got caught and had to change some things they were doing.
It's payback time.
Just like Hillary Clinton has all her goons all over the TV calling for republicans to be "impeached" - it's just payback for them impeaching her husband. It's the same mode of operation and they all use it.
I also heard a while ago that Daschle was building a new $2 mil home in S.Dakota.
And didn't some get caught?