Howard Dean’s campaign demanded yesterday that his Democratic presidential rivals repudiate an independently financed commercial that uses a picture of Osama bin Laden in attacking the former Vermont governor.
The 30-second ad, being aired by Americans for Jobs, Health Care & Progressive Values, also was denounced by the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, which has given the organization $50,000. A spokesman called the commercial “despicable” and said the union may ask for its money back.
Dean campaign manager Joe Trippi sent a letter calling on the other candidates “to condemn this despicable ad and demand it be pulled from the airwaves. Democrats are better than this.”
As the ad shows a Time magazine cover photo of bin Laden, the narrator says: “There are those who wake up every morning determined to destroy western civilization. Americans want a president who can face the dangers ahead. But Howard Dean has no military or foreign policy experience. And Howard Dean just cannot compete with George Bush on foreign policy.”
David Jones, a former fundraiser for Rep. Richard A. Gephardt (D-Mo.), said the organization was formed last month as a two-man operation, with him as treasurer and former representative Edward Feighan (D-Ohio), who has made the maximum $2,000 contribution to Gephardt’s presidential bid. The group, which has aired other anti-Dean ads, has not disclosed its donors.
Gephardt told reporters yesterday: “I have no idea what this group is doing. If I wanted to run ads like this, I would run them. I wish they weren’t running the ads. . . . I’m sorry they’re doing it.”
Rick Sloan, communications director for the machinists union, which has endorsed Gephardt, said the ad “does more damage to Dick Gephardt than it would ever do to Howard Dean” because of Feighan’s and Jones’s ties to Gephardt. Sloan urged the group to disclose its donors now, saying: “These folks are purporting to be supportive of progressive values. This has nothing to do with progressive values. . . . With foes like these, Howard Dean needs few friends.”
The progressive values group is a so-called 527 organization, which is legally barred from coordinating its issue advertising with any campaign or political party. The group is not legally required to list its donors until the end of January; that is, after the Jan. 19 Iowa caucus and Jan. 27 New Hampshire primary.
Jones said the group would disclose its contributions immediately, as legally required, if it continues advertising within 30 days of any state primary or caucus, a period that, for Iowa, begins this weekend. The group is spending $500,000 to run the bin Laden ad and a second spot in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina.
“Whoever is behind this needs to crawl out from their hole and have the guts to say who they are,” said Tricia Enright, Dean’s spokeswoman. Calling the ad “scurrilous,” “ridiculous,” “desperate” and “nothing more than fear-mongering,” she said: “It has become clear that some of the folks behind it have ties to other campaigns.”
Robert Gibbs, a spokesman for the organization, said it is “complying completely and fully with the new campaign finance law. Our only intention is to raise issues that are important in this process.”
Gibbs left the presidential campaign of Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.) a few weeks ago after a staff shake-up. He said that is irrelevant to his new job and the organization “is completely independent of any campaign or presidential candidate.”
Stephanie Cutter, Kerry’s campaign spokeswoman, responded to Trippi’s letter by saying: “The preoccupation with this ad by the Dean campaign is an attempt to distract from the real issue in the campaign, which is: who has the foreign policy experience and vision to lead the country in a dangerous world.”
Jones, who worked for Al Gore’s 2000 presidential campaign, most recently was raising money for Rep. Charles B. Rangel (D-N.Y.). Feighan is chairman of the parent company of Century Insurance Group.
Political researcher Brian Faler contributed to this report.