Wednesday, August 27, 2008



Published: August 27, 2008

As Senator Obama’s campaign makes its argument for his candidacy before a national audience here this week, it is waging a separate, forceful campaign against a new conservative group running millions of dollars of ads linking him to the 1960s radical William Ayers Jr.

Lawyers for the campaign have asked the Justice Department to investigate the group —which is operating under rules governing non-profit corporations — calling on television stations to cease airing the spot, and, campaign officials said, planning to pressure advertisers on stations that refuse to do so. The ad is running in Pennsylvania, Ohio and Michigan.

On Monday, the Obama campaign also began running a rotation of advertisements countering the spot where it is running and not-so-subtly implying it is the product of the McCain campaign, with a narrator who says, “With all of our problems, why is John McCain talking about the ’60s, trying to link Barack Obama to radical Bill Ayers? McCain knows Obama denounced Ayers’ crimes.”

A former aide to Mr. McCain’s campaign, Ed Failor Jr., is a leader of the group; Mr. McCain’s campaign has said it has nothing do with the group. It is being backed by a $2.9 million donation from the billionaire investor Harold Simmons, who was also a major funder of the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, the group that in 2004 ran a disputed campaign questioning Senator John Kerry’s record as a Swift Boat commander in Vietnam. Mr. Simmons is also a major fundraiser for Mr. McCain.

The group’s activities are being closely watched by Mr. Obama’s campaign, which is on the lookout for groups that might damage his electoral chances the same way the Swift Boat veterans are widely believed to have damaged Mr. Kerry’s. The group emerged late last week, as Mr. Obama’s campaign, and political reporters, were acutely focused on Mr. Obama’s choice of a running mate and convention here.

Its formation followed the recent release of a book by Jerome Corsi — who co-authored a book containing the Swift Boat group’s claims against Mr. Kerry — that contained various factual errors and unsubstantiated claims against Mr. Obama.

Mr. Obama’s campaign ultimately responded by releasing a thick dossier of bullet points disputing the book’s claims — a move in part intended to telegraph that it would aggressively meet attacks in a way Democrats accused Mr. Kerry’s campaign of failing to do quickly enough against the Swift Boat group’s charges.

In its fight against the American Issues Project, Mr. Obama’s campaign is essentially arguing that the group should fall under more strict election laws because its sole purpose seems to be to defeat Mr. Obama at the polls; issue groups are allowed to run some political advertising so long as affecting an election is not their primary purpose. Under election laws, Mr. Simmons would not be able to exceed a donation of $42,000 to the group and others like it. In a second letter about the group sent to the Justice Department in the past week, Robert F. Bauer, Mr. Obama’s election lawyer, accused the group of flouting “all legal obligations attendant upon political committee status.”

In a statement, a leader of the group, Ed Martin, said, “These over-the-top bullying tactics are reminiscent of the kind of censorship one would see in a Stalinist dictatorship, with the only difference being that those guys generally had to wait until they were in power to throw people who disagreed with them into jail.”

The group has said it is following proper guidelines and operating legally, and Mr. Martin said it represented “a coalition of conservative activists committed to raising important issues that deserve deeper examination given their impact on policy and politics.”

Mr. Ayers, now a professor of education in Chicago, was a founder of the Weather Underground, which bombed government buildings in the early 1970s. He was indicted on conspiracy charges that were thrown out for prosecutorial misconduct.

He served with Mr. Obama on the board of the Woods Fund of Chicago, a charitable organization, and, along with his wife, the former Weather Underground member Bernardine Dohrn, hosted Mr. Obama at his home in 1995 when he was running for state office.

Mr. Obama has called Mr. Ayers “’somebody who engaged in detestable acts 40 years ago, when I was 8 years old.”

Fox News Channel and CNN declined to run the spot amid legal questions. But the commercial, a minute long, has run at least 100 times since Saturday, heavily in East Lansing and Pittsburgh.

Saying that Mr. Obama’s supporters had sent 93,000 e-mails to the Sinclair broadcasting company for carrying the advertisement, Tommy, a campaign spokesman, said, “Other stations that follow Sinclair’s lead should expect a similar response from people who don’t want the political discourse cheapened with these false, negative attacks.”

The fight may move to another front this week.

The University of Illinois at Chicago is in the process or releasing documents detailing Mr. Obama’s involvement with a non-profit education project started by Mr. Ayers.