ATLANTA (AP) — The Bushes aren't from Georgia, but the powerful Republican clan has become a focal point in a contentious Senate race here as Republican David Perdue trades fire with Democrat Michelle Nunn over her work at the Bush family's Points of Light foundation.
Not surprisingly, former President George H.W. Bush endorsed Perdue, even as Nunn continues highlighting her seven years as CEO of Points of Light, which bills itself as the largest volunteer organization in the world.
Now, Perdue finds himself at odds with the Bushes over two statewide ads that suggest the former president's nonprofit routed money to "terrorists," a dubious characterization that hinges on a leaked Nunn campaign document that predicted the potential GOP attacks but also called them "distortions."
Points of Light Chairman Neil Bush, one of George H.W. Bush's sons, slammed an ad paid for by Republicans' national Senate campaign arm and called on Perdue to take it down.
"Neither Points of Light nor Michelle Nunn have had anything to do with funneling money from our organization to terrorist organizations," Neil Bush said in a statement. "To attack an organization founded by my father, whose integrity is unimpeachable, to smear our organization for political gain, is in my opinion shameful."
Perdue responded with a second ad, paid for by his campaign, repeating the same assertion.
Nunn on Wednesday said both ads "push the boundaries of common decency" and should be taken down.
But the Perdue campaign and the National Republican Senatorial Committee stood firm. "The people of Georgia will have to decide if that's who they want representing them in the U.S. Senate," Perdue spokeswoman Megan Whittemore said of Nunn.
Nunn, Perdue and Libertarian Amanda Swafford meet in the Nov. 4 general election. The outcome will determine which major party controls the Senate for the final two years of President Barack Obama's administration. Republicans need six more seats and can ill afford to lose the one now held by retiring Sen. Saxby Chambliss.
The wrangling over the Bush foundation highlights some of Nunn's challenges as she tries to pull an upset in a GOP-controlled state that hasn't elected a Democrat to the Senate since 2000.
She pitches herself as bipartisan, criticizing Congress and leaders on both sides of the aisle for acrimony and dysfunction. She mentions Bush often as a mentor, including his image in campaign materials and ads. Nunn said Wednesday she's not trying to convince voters that the Bushes want her to win. Rather, she said she wants to prove that she already knows how to "minimize party differences and find common ground."
Whatever her reasoning, the strategy thrusts the foundation into the political fray.
The Republican attacks stem from a Nunn campaign document written by various strategists and mistakenly published online. The partial quotes in the Perdue and GOP ads are taken from a section that lists likely Republican attacks, among them "grants to problematic entities" and "awards to inmates, terrorists."
The Nunn campaign has since released details involving a Points of Light subsidiary, MissionFish, that handled transactions in which buyers and sellers at the online auction site eBay directed a portion of a sale to charity. According to the foundation and the Nunn campaign, MissionFish validated charities as legitimate — having tax-free status or the equivalent in whatever country they were based — and collected and distributed the proceeds.
Among the 20,000 organizations that fell under that umbrella was Islamic Relief USA, which according to Points of Light documents received about $13,500 in transactions handled by MissionFish. Islamic Relief is a subsidiary of Islamic Relief Worldwide, which the Israeli government has claimed is linked to Hamas, the militant ruling party in Gaza deemed a terrorist group by the U.S. State Department.
Islamic Relief denies being associated with Hamas.
Follow Barrow on Twitter @BillBarrowAP.