Rick Reed

When launched last fall, the Foundation for a Secure and Prosperous America (FSPA) was labeled an “evil,” “soft-money” group; it was no surprise its activities would immediately be denounced by Senator John McCain. After all, for years Senator McCain has been a vocal opponent of soft-money groups operating independently of federal campaigns.

Unfortunately, it is McCain Feingold “campaign finance reform” that reconfigured the playing field and created these groups. And, even more unfortunate for the GOP is that liberal groups have made it an art form. Reports indicate “hundreds of millions” in soft money will be spent this election year.

The vast majority of funds are being amassed by liberal groups. Moveon.org has raised tens of millions and plans to spend it all to help Senator Obama.

Moreover, it should be clear to anyone interested in a serious debate about the economic and national security future of the United States that the issue of independent expenditures is much bigger than McCain’s own campaign finance reform agenda.

In addition to Senator Obama’s massive war chest, other left wing groups have the potential to outspend conservative counterparts by at least 10 to 1, most of it on television ads. And in politics, the reach and frequency of television messages matter. Senator McCain and those who oppose a timetable for withdrawal of American troops in Iraq can’t possibly expect to be heard above the ranting lefties who are standing by to do Obama’s dirty work. Already, labor unions are on the air with distorted ads suggesting McCain wants to draft babies to serve in Iraq for the next 100 years. Don’t expect the media to help clarify the record.

Swift Boat Redux? It’s doubtful the media will portray these left-wing groups the same way they vilified the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth in 2004.

In 2004 a group of courageous men of no particular political party affiliation came forward to tell about the John Kerry they knew in Vietnam. Known as the Swift Boat Veterans and POWs for Truth, many of those who testified as to Kerry’s prevarications were officers in Kerry’s own unit. They included his entire chain of command as well as the one crew member who served on Kerry’s own boat longer than anyone else during Kerry’s 3 months as a Swiftie. In the 90-day period between early August and the November election, these men conducted more than 4,000 interviews with the media. To a man they were men I was proud to assist in a small way.

They had nothing to gain, personally or professionally. In fact, they and their families were subjected to a variety of threats as well as private investigators hired by Kerry to dig up dirt. Kerry and his cronies failed.

Kerry’s “crewmates” meanwhile conducted only a handful of interviews in response until petrified Kerry political operatives yanked them permanently from public scrutiny. And now, alas, four years later, as Kerry’s name is bandied about as a potential Secretary of State or Defense to a President Obama, they’ve written a letter “proving” the Swift Boat veterans were not telling the truth.

The media naturally joins in. Yet one shouldn’t expect is an indictment of the Swifties from anyone interested in the truth; or an indictment of a system that permits 527 groups or 501(c)4’s to participate so long as they meet certain conditions. Yes, this is the same media culture that fails to hold accountable a former campaign finance reform advocate like Barack Obama for breaking his pledge to finance his campaign with federal funds.

The media has termed ”swift boating” as illegitimate, unwarranted attacks. According to the swift boat veterans I know it is defined as “exposing a political figure as a fraud.”

Yet here’s an inconvenient truth: even if you accept the media definition of “Swift-boating” as a pejorative, John Kerry “swift boated” himself. It was his unauthorized trip to Paris to meet with the North Vietnamese in 1972. It was his phony claim about conducting secret missions into Cambodia. It was his testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee where he repeated phony charges of war atrocities allegedly committed by American troops while brave Americans were being held in North Vietnamese prison camps. And it was he who refused to answer questions about his medals or why his “honorable” discharge from the Navy came seven years after he left the service.

But the mainstream media and its allies on the left aren't the only ones who get weak-kneed when called upon to stand up for the truth. There are plenty of GOP political hacks who call themselves strategists, but who cower in the face of media criticism and who've never been closer than 1000 miles to a winning campaign. Their advice: either disavow the Swift Boat ads or stay silent. They, in fact, may be the most dangerous to the preservation of conservative values and advancement of ideas.

As to “soft money groups” it is time for conservatives to ignore Senator McCain and talk about the critical issues of the day. The other side will use its millions; we have to use every resource available to tell the truth.

After all, the truth will set you free.


Rick Reed

Rick Reed has written and produced the advertising for Senator Lindsey Graham (SC), Senator George Allen (VA)- winner of PR WEEK’s Political Campaign of the Year award in 2000.