WASHINGTON — Two groups said Wednesday they will demand a criminal probe of the Gore and Bush campaigns for allegedly misusing political parties' TV "issue" ads to promote presidential candidates.
The plan by Common Cause and Democracy 21 came to light when Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) released a letter from the two groups at a congressional hearing.
"The Gore for President Committee and the Bush for President Committee . . . along with their respective national political parties, are engaging in an illegal scheme," Common Cause President Scott Harshbarger and Democracy 21 President Fred Wertheimer wrote Specter.
Republican National Committee ads tout Bush's plan to let people invest a portion of their Social Security taxes in the stock market while Democratic National Committee ads embrace Gore's proposal for a Medicare prescription drug benefit. Both candidates appear in the ads.
The groups said they "will shortly ask the Justice Department to conduct an investigation" because "the presidential campaigns design, create, target and control the ad campaigns, which are no different in kind or approach than other campaign ads being run by the Gore and Bush campaigns."
Both parties defended their advertising.
"That ad communicates the RNC position on Social Security. Gov. Bush is the leader of our party, and there is no issue of more importance than saving and strengthening Social Security," said spokesman Mark Pfeifle. "What we are doing is communicating the GOP position on Social Security with the American people, which is completely legal."
"The DNC feels that our advertising this cycle is both appropriate and legal," said spokeswoman Jenny Backus. She said the complaint was "somewhat misplaced" in that it did not address spending by "527" groups, which aren't required to reveal their donors because of a loophole in the law.
Regarding TV "issue" ads, Common Cause made a similar complaint to the Justice Department in 1996. However, Atty. Gen. Janet Reno refused to seek appointment of an independent counsel, concluding that there was no criminal intent because President Clinton and Gore acted on the advice of lawyers who vetted the ad campaign.