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CAMPAIGN 2000

McCain Blasts Pro-Bush TV Ad Campaign Financed by Texans

Environment: Senator insists the pollution claims are misleading and asks that stations not air the commercials.

March 04, 2000|T. CHRISTIAN MILLER and JANET WILSON | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

NEW YORK — John McCain accused Republican rival George W. Bush and his allies Friday of filling the airwaves with millions of dollars worth of misleading attack ads, including one financed by a pair of wealthy brothers from Texas who have raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for Bush.

The latter ad campaign, costing more than $2 million, touts Bush's environmental record and bashes that of McCain. It was being aired in all of New York, the San Francisco Bay Area and parts of Ohio, the three key states among the 12 with Republican primaries or caucuses Tuesday.

McCain's camp filed a complaint with the Federal Communications Commission on Thursday over the environmental ad, and asked television stations not to air the spot. It was not clear late Friday if any stations had pulled the ad, which shows McCain's face against a backdrop of spewing smokestacks and says: "McCain voted against clean energy."

McCain, who has made campaign finance reform a cornerstone of his political agenda, attacked the ad as emblematic of "everything I've been fighting against. Two million dollars in the last few days in this campaign can make a difference" in several races.

The ad is sponsored by a group formed just this week by brothers Sam and Charles Wyly, called Republicans for Clean Air. Both Bush and the Wylys said there had been no coordination between the Bush campaign and Republicans for Clean Air--such cooperation could be illegal under federal election law.

"There is no connection between my campaign and this ad," Bush said. We had no knowledge whatsoever that Sam Wyly was going to run this ad."

When asked if he thought it was appropriate that someone close to him was bankrolling such a spot, Bush snapped: "I don't think it's appropriate that the Sierra Club is running ads against me, but they are. This is America, where they can express their opinion."

The Wyly brothers, multimillionaires who made their fortunes in computer software and other ventures, have donated $210,273 to Bush's gubernatorial campaigns in Texas, according to campaign records. Charles Wyly is also a Bush "Pioneer," the designation for those who have helped raise more than $100,000 from others for the governor's presidential effort.

The brothers have frequently contributed to other Republicans over the years; each gave $1,000 to McCain's 1998 Senate campaign. McCain campaign director Rick Davis acknowledged that he did not have proof of a direct link between the Bush campaign and the environmental ad, but he said a "web" of contacts suggests Wyly was acting on Bush's behalf.

"There's no question in our campaign's mind that these ads are being sponsored, coordinated and paid for by the Bush campaign," Davis said. "We find this outrageous, [and] we think there should be an immediate investigation by the proper authorities."

Rob Allyn, a Dallas-based Republican consultant who produced the ads, said Sam Wyly called late last week and asked him to devise the spots. "Obviously the timing is because right now, this week, California, New York and Ohio voters are determining who the next president is going to be," said Allyn.

Despite that, Allyn insisted the ads were "issue spots," not campaign ads, meaning there were no limits on how much the Wylys could spend on them. Under campaign finance law, if an "issue ad" is coordinated with a political campaign, or is actually a campaign ad, it could amount to an illegal donation.

McCain's campaign began running a radio spot Friday that sought to turn the tables on the environmental issue. It said in part, "George Bush and his surrogates have got to be kidding. Now they're attacking John McCain on the environment. . . . Under George Bush, Texas ranks worst among all 50 states in toxic air pollution . . . in toxic chemical spills. . . ."

McCain and Bush are both stumping furiously, with Tuesday shaping up to be the most critical of the season's GOP primaries.

As McCain held a rally before 2,000 chilled-but-cheering supporters in front of the New York Stock Exchange, however, new polls were coming out with mostly bleak news for the insurgent. The polls showed him trailing Bush substantially among likely primary voters in Georgia, Maryland, Ohio, Missouri and California (with 162 delegates, California is the single biggest prize Tuesday). A new poll also showed McCain and Bush in a statistical dead heat in New York, whose 101 delegates make it the second-biggest prize of the day.

The topic of the day, however, was more ads than polls, with a second Bush ad also infuriating the McCain camp. The minute-long spot features a breast cancer survivor, Geri Barish, saying she decided not to vote for McCain after learning he had denied funds to breast cancer research projects.

"McCain opposes funding for vital breast cancer programs," Geri Barish says in the ad, specifying his votes against two specific New York breast cancer programs. "McCain calls these projects just 'garden-variety pork.' That's shocking."

Bush on Friday appeared at a Long Island health research center, Barish and cancer specialists at his side, wearing a pink breast cancer awareness pin on his lapel for the first time on the campaign trail.

As McCain traveled from Manhattan to Fairfield, Conn., Friday, Bush's breast cancer ad appeared on the television inside his Straight Talk Express bus. His jaw tightened and he muttered under his breath, "I hope my sister isn't watching television."

His sister was diagnosed with breast cancer two years ago. She underwent a lumpectomy and completed chemotherapy recently.

McCain says he didn't vote for the two breast cancer clinics because they were contained in catch-all bills filled with lawmakers' pet projects.

*

Times staff writers Eric Slater, Maria L. La Ganga, Art Pine and Nick Anderson contributed to this story.

* WHAT THEY REALLY SAID

Howard Rosenberg offers his own transcript of the Republican debate. F1

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