Dallas billionaire Harold Simmons finances anti-Obama ad
The Dallas Morning News
By WAYNE SLATER and GROMER JEFFERS JR.
DENVER - A Dallas billionaire who helped bankroll the Swift Boat Veterans attack on John Kerry is the sole funder of a new television ad linking Barack Obama to a 1960s radical antiwar group.
Harold Simmons gave $2.88 million to the American Issues Project, which is using the money to air the ad, according to Federal Election Committee filings.
The commercial raises questions about Mr. Obama's relationship with William Ayers, a University of Chicago professor who three decades ago was a member of the Weather Underground.
The 60-second spot is playing in Ohio and Michigan, two swing states where Mr. Obama and John McCain are running close in the polls.
The Obama campaign cried foul.
"It's not surprising that the smear peddlers that bankrolled the Swift Boat lies four years ago on behalf of George Bush are once again using old-fashioned Washington tactics to lie about Barack Obama on behalf of John McCain," said Obama spokeswoman Shannon Gilson.
Christian Pinkston of the American Issues Project defended the ad as accurate and well-documented.
"This is an issue of substance," said Mr. Pinkston, who also worked for Swift Boat Veterans. "It goes to Sen. Obama's judgment. And the fact that he seems to surround himself with people who hate the United States of America seemed worth exploring."
Mr. Simmons did not return a telephone call seeking comment.
Mr. Pinkston said he didn't know how Mr. Simmons, a major McCain fundraiser, was contacted to bankroll the group's media effort.
Under federal law, it's illegal for independent groups to coordinate with political candidates. Mr. Pinkston said there was no contact between his group, which was founded by a former McCain consultant, and the McCain campaign.
Mr. Simmons, an investor who heads the corporate holding company Contran, is one of the most prolific political donors in the country. He was among President Bush's largest campaign contributors and has given millions of dollars to candidates and groups aligned with the GOP.
He and two other Texans, Houston homebuilder Bob Perry and Dallas oilman T. Boone Pickens, were primary backers in 2004 of Swift Boat Veterans, which challenged Mr. Kerry's military service. Many of the group's charges were subsequently discredited, but its ad campaign proved politically devastating.
Mr. Simmons is a major benefactor of Texas politicians. He has given more than $500,000 to Gov. Rick Perry and more than $300,000 to both Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and Attorney General Greg Abbott.
Mr. Simmons is the major owner of Waste Control Specialists, which is seeking state approval to expand its radioactive waste operations in West Texas to include a higher level of nuclear material. The state's environmental commissioners are appointed by Mr. Perry.
Craig McDonald of Texans for Public Justice, a nonprofit group that monitors campaign contributions, said, "Texas is a breeding ground for this type of dirty politics."
"Given the legal limits on contributions to presidential candidates, bankrolling so-called independent attack ads is one way for mega-donors to exercise their clout," he said.
The American Issues Project is one of scores of independent committees created to support Republican and Democratic candidates in the presidential race.
It's anti-Obama ad underscores how The Weather Underground claimed responsibility for bombing government buildings. Mr. Ayers was indicted but not convicted on conspiracy charges.
Now a college professor, Mr. Ayers served with Mr. Obama on the board of a charitable organization in Chicago and hosted a fundraiser at his home in 1995 when Mr. Obama was running for state office.