With Bob Dole’s presidential campaign reaching federal spending limits in the summer of 1996, campaign officials coordinated with the Republican National Committee on running issue-based advertising that wouldn’t count against the ceiling, internal GOP memos show.
The memos show a party that was worried its presidential nominee was “likely to be broke” by summer, and then became concerned that a crucial ad on Dole’s career “could run into a real snag” in complying with spending limits.
Senate investigators are trying to determine whether Dole - in coordination with his party - and President Clinton, in conjunction with the Democratic Party, misused the issue ads in an effort to promote their own elections and evade the federal campaign spending limits.
Several Senate Republicans have charged that remarks by Clinton, captured on videotape, show that the president’s personal involvement with the ads indicate he was trying to skirt the limits. The White House denied Clinton had any such intention.
A political party can run ads that are exempt from the ceiling, provided they do not advocate anyone’s election or defeat but rather place issues before the public.
Clifford May, a spokesman for the Republican National Committee, said Clinton “went over the line when he took control” of the Democratic National Committee’s issue-based ads, while Dole “at no point created or in any way controlled any advertising that came from the RNC.”
Former Republican National Chairman Haley Barbour set the stage for the GOP coordination in a March 5, 1996 memo, written even before Dole captured the Republican nomination.
Barbour wrote Republican leaders that the party nominee “is likely to be broke and to have reached the spending limit allowed by law. Assuming our nominee has reached the limit, he will not be able to air radio and TV spots or conduct much in the way of campaign activity until the convention in August.”
Declaring that Clinton, who was far under the limit, should not have “a free shot,” Barbour said the RNC and state party organizations “have a sizable … budget” for generic issue ads that would begin in April. Then he added, “the party can coordinate our generic advertising with anybody” except for restrictions in doing so with independent groups.
On May 22, two Republican National Committee staffers wrote Barbour that the party “could run into a real snag” with a generic, biographical ad on Dole.
“Certainly, all the quantitative and qualitative research strongly suggests that this spot needs to be run,” but “Making this spot pass the issue advocacy test may take some doing,” the memo acknowledged.
Several weeks later, on June 5, Barbour wrote Republican staffers that he would discuss the budget for generic ads with Dole campaign manager Scott Reed.
“I will reach out to Scott Reed to ask him to consider whether the Dole campaign would want us to … reduce other spending, such as the issue advocacy television advertising by $800,000,” the chairman’s memo said.
In midsummer, GOP consultant Don Sipple wrote both Barbour and Reed to coordinate strategy on upcoming television spots beginning in mid-July.
“As per our discussion Wednesday evening, it is my view that what we run should have significant force that Clinton and the Democrats are compelled to respond,” he wrote. Sipple went on to discuss possible subjects for the new ads.
Dole, who volunteered, will testify soon before the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee. Chairman Fred Thompson, R-Tenn., also said he would like President Clinton to testify but the president, through his spokesman, has refused.
Dole and Clinton each agreed to abide by the $37.1 million spending limit during the presidential primary season last year - a condition of receiving taxpayer matching funds to supplement their own fund raising.
Last summer, there were numerous news stories about Dole’s campaign bumping up against the limit with months to go before the general election campaign - when there would be a new infusion of federal money.
Dole’s primary committee was trying every possible accounting technique to stay under the limit - such as transferring the cost of computers to the general election committee.
Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., has led the Republican charge against Clinton, contending that recently released videotapes show that Clinton coordinated and controlled Democratic National Committee issue-based advertising to avoid the spending limits.
The White House responded that the coordination was legal, so long as the ads concentrated on issues without advocating Clinton’s election or Dole’s defeat.
The tape that most interested the Republicans was last June, when the president told Democratic donors that the generic ad campaign was “central to the position I now enjoy in the polls.” Specter said Clinton’s comment “really nails” the contention that the president intended to evade the limits.