Issue Ad Watch

Published — October 3, 2000 Updated — May 19, 2014 at 12:19 pm ET

Here are the groups targeted by ‘no-soft-money’ pledge in New York race


New York’s U.S. Senate candidates, Republican Representative Rick Lazio of Long Island and his Democratic opponent, first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton, have agreed to discourage outside interest groups from airing issue advocacy ads during the contest and to let the two candidates and their parties duke it out on their own.

The agreement has influenced the national race as well. Vice President Gore said he was ready to order the Democratic National Committee not to air television and radio commercials paid for by unregulated “soft money” contributions during the remaining days of the presidential campaign if George W. Bush committed the Republican National Committee to a similar pledge.

The Center has profiled 23 groups directly named by the pledge or by either candidate as seeking to affect the outcome of the election.

Lazio gathered 14 signatures on a “New York Freedom From Soft Money Pact” from conservative groups with multi-million-dollar bank accounts, poised to run ads and manage massive get-out-the-vote efforts for Lazios victory. Clinton refused to gather signatures from the 13 liberal groups Lazio identified, telling the New York press, “I have called on them, (the interest groups) but I have certainly no control over them . . . Well just have to see how the various groups decide to act.”

The deal brokered the weekend of September 23, which took effect September 27, also bans political party soft money for broadcast and print advertising, but not for get-out-the-vote campaigns and direct mailings — a very popular use of soft money. The pledge does not require campaigns to refund soft-money gifts. Clinton negotiated a tentative enforcement for the pledge between candidates: If one side breaks the ban with an ad, the other side may answer “proportionately,” spending the same amount of soft money.

(In the broadest sense, “soft money” is raised from party committees, interest groups, corporations, labor unions and individuals. It can be supplied in limitless chunks, and is not regulated by the Federal Election Commission. National party committees must report their soft money receipts to the FEC.)

Groups Supporting Lazio: (all have signed the pledge)

The American Conservative Union has agreed to Lazio’s pledge, stating it will follow the actions of New York state’s Conservative Party (profiled below). The group has pulled its television issue ads targeting Hillary Clinton.

One ad begins with a shot of five babies. The announcer intones, “In New York, all babies like these have something in common.” Then the shot shifts to just one baby wearing a New York Yankees ball cap. “They’ve all lived here longer than Hillary Clinton.” The ad ran on cable in the city and the suburbs and was scheduled to run in such upstate markets as Albany and Binghamton.

The ACU is a 35-year-old conservative interest group with more than one million members that is sending out an 89-page paperback detailing “what every American should know” about Hillary Clinton, as part of a “Voter Alert Campaign” that also includes radio, television and newspaper ads. The accompanying letter, addressed to a “conservative friend from ACU chairman David Keene, describes the first lady as “just as corrupt” as the president, and “far more liberal”—claiming that she has been at the center of the scandals at the White House.

The American Political Action Committee was founded by Alan Gottlieb, a conservative activist from Washington state who founded several other groups, such as the Second Amendment Foundation, the Wise Use Movement and the Citizens Committee for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms, which raise and spend millions of dollars yearly opposing gun-control measures. Gottlieb and some of these organizations brought a complaint to the FEC, and then a lawsuit, charging that Bill Clinton’s 1992 election campaign committee had received an extra $1.4 million in federal matching funds beyond what it was entitled. The lawsuit was dismissed in 1997.

The American Political Action Committee had spent $50,000 on the New York U.S. Senate race by February, sending hundreds of copies of a 178-page book, entitled She Took a Village: The Unauthorized Biography of Hillary Rodham Clinton, to New York mailboxes. The book includes chapters entitled “Mrs. President” and “Scandals Galore.” The committee is also soliciting funds to finance a webpage called “The Hillary Project” ( that paints Clinton as a “corrupt radical” and “out-of-the-mainstream leftist.”

The Citizens for a Sound Economy pledged to raise $1 million to defeat Clinton in New York. CSE is a 15-year-old, 250,000-member- think tank based in Washington that researches consumer-advocate issues. In the last year, the group created a PAC that planned to fund tailored voter guides, scorecards and get-out-the-vote drives as well as to run television, radio and print advertisements opposing Clinton in New York.

The think tank is financed by donations from such corporations as Microsoft, Koch Industries, Exxon Corp., General Electric and Philip Morris. All told, the group takes in an income in excess of $15 million. C. Boyden Gray, White House counsel in the Bush administration, is chairman of the board of trustees.

The Coalition for a Better America created a controversial website,, in December 1999, seeking to “expose Hillary Rodham Clinton’s true colors” to New York voters.

The Coalition plans to use the website, direct mail and “phone persuasion,” and has launched a nationwide fund-raising drive to bankroll these efforts.

Jeff Larson, who runs the site, told the news media at the onset of his project that his intent was to subject Clinton to “unprecedented and sustained scrutiny” as she embarks on her candidacy for the U.S. Senate, and acts on what the Coalition fears are deeper ambitions to run for the White House one day. Larson said he believes that Clinton’s fund-raising successes have made it “necessary and legitimate” to set the record straight about the first lady and make the “New York race her last political exploration. As long as she has a carpetbag and somebody else to write the checks to underwrite her ambitions, she could be running for some other office in a neighborhood or state near you.”

The Conservative Leadership Political Action Committee has set a $9 million goal for the next two months for its “Emergency Committee to Stop Hillary Rodham Clinton.” The PAC planned to run print and broadcast advertisements, but will now fund only a direct mailing campaign against Clinton. Edwin Meese III, attorney general under President Reagan, is on the committee.

The Conservative Party of New York, on whose ballot line Lazio is also running, has criticized Clinton for being an out-of-state candidate and for her failed health care plan. The 38-year-old party ran two separate advertisements off and on over the summer, with the latest barrage hitting the week of Sept. 18. Each ad costs an estimated $50,000 per week. Clinton specifically mentioned the Conservative Party as one of the most active organizations running issue campaigns, other conservative groups will gauge their actions by the Conservative Party. David Keene, executive director of the American Conservative Union, initially declined to participate in the pledge. He eventually signed with the following disclaimer: “We will follow the lead of the New York Conservative Party. When Mike Long, the Conservative Party chairman is satisfied, we will cease all soft money expenditures.” The Conservative Party has stated that it will abide by the agreement and stop its soft money expenditures.

An interest group called Conservatives for Effective Leadership has a goal of spending $10 million on anti-Hillary Clinton ads in New York. The group has sent out at least two separate letters, from the group’s director and a New York representative.

Gary Nolan, director of the organization, wrote to potential contributors that the first lady is not just “corrupt . . . but she’s a committed radical Marxist to boot.” Representative Sue Kelly, R-N.Y., wrote that if Americans wanted to “save America from the corrupt liberal politics of Hillary Rodham Clinton, sign your STOP HILLARY pledge . . . She has her own radical agenda. And she won’t stop until she forces it on every man, woman and child in America!”

Both letters were sent during New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani’s campaign efforts in early spring.

ConserveAmerica has sent thousands of letters to New Yorkers accusing Clinton of packing the government with “a small army of left-wing, anti-family, pro-criminal, anti-defense socialists.”

ConserveAmerica is headed up by a 28-year-old in Eastchester, N.Y. From his mothers kitchen, Carlo Pellicciari has raised nearly $10,000, according to New York media reports.

A letter from ConserveAmerica states, “Mrs. Clinton is an ultra-liberal, carpetbagging opportunist who wishes to use our state as a stepping stone back to the White House as a candidate for president in 2004.” The letter depicts the first lady and President Clinton as “two charlatans.”

The National Conservative Campaign Fund, also known as the Conservative Campaign Fund, features top-drawer Republican names on its board of directors, such as Edwin Meese III as honorary chairman and Jeane Kirkpatrick as honorary vice-chair. Other advisory board members include Ralph Reed Jr., a key adviser to George W. Bush and former executive director of the Christian Coalition, and Angela “Bay” Buchanan, sister of Pat Buchanan, the Reform Party presidential candidate. The group has been around for several years, donating more than $500,000 to conservative candidates in the 1994 election cycle.

In a recent fund-raising letter circulated in New York, the group called Clinton the “darling of the left,” backed by “radical feminists, extreme environmentalists, Puerto Rican terrorist sympathizers, big government/socialized-medicine activists and homosexual militants.”

For contributions of $100 or more, donors receive the book Hell to Pay: The Unfolding Story of Hillary Rodham Clinton by conservative lawyer Barbara Olson, who participated in the so-called “Travelgate” and “Filegate” investigations.

The Republican Jewish Coalition, headquartered in Washington, D.C., spent $50,000 on a television advertisement showing Hillary Clinton embracing Yasser Arafat’s wife, Suha, after Mrs. Arafat accused Israel of poisoning children in Palestine.

The advertisement says: “With Hillary Clinton at her side, Suha Arafat made the false and disgraceful claim that Israel was poisoning Palestinian women and children with toxic gases. Instead of reacting with outrage, Hillary Clinton sat by silently. When Arafat was finished, Hillary gave her a hug and a kiss. It’s sad. While Israel sacrifices for peace — Arafat spreads hatred and lies — and Hillary embraces her. Tell Hillary Clinton — stand up for Israel — stand up for truth.” This was the first candidate-related issue advertisement the coalition had ever run.

The Republican Jewish Coalition claims to be the only grassroots organization of Jewish Republicans. It has 14 chapters in California, Ohio, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Florida, Texas and Missouri.

Many recognizable names of the Republican leadership, such as Senators Robert Bennett, R-Utah, Ben Nighthorse Campbell, R-Colo., and Arlen Specter, R-Pa., all sit on the advisory board of a moderate Republican group called the Republican Leadership Council. It planned to spend more than $1 million in ads promoting the Lazio’s U.S. Senate candidacy. In one spot, the council used a sound bite from President Clinton to support Lazio’s bid against the first lady. The $100,000 ad buy began in early June and featured the president commending Lazio’s bipartisan work on health care.

The RLC was founded in 1997 to pull the Republican Party back to the center and was modeled after the Democratic Leadership Council, created in 1985 to steer the Democrats in a more “centrist” direction. Bill Clinton chaired the latter group before running for president. The organization, also includes such luminaries as Senator Joseph Lieberman, D-Conn., and House Minority Leader Richard Gephardt, D-Mo.

The RLC is very active in issue advocacy this election cycle and has been criticized for picking sides in GOP primaries. Earlier this year, the RLC spent $200,000 targeting Steve Forbes presidential bid. Forbes filed a complaint with the Federal Election Commission claiming illegal coordination between the George W. Bush presidential campaign and the group, as many of the RLC’s committee members are also “Pioneer” fund-raisers for Bush (i.e., raised at least $100,000 for him). The RLC defended itself by stating that there was no coordination and that the Bush campaign had no involvement in the RLC’s ad campaign.

The Republican Party ordinarily provides fund-raising and campaign support to many Republican candidates. Under the terms of the agreement made by Lazio and Clinton Sept. 24, the two parties may continue soft-money expenditures on get-out-the-vote drives and direct mail, but party soft-money spending on television and radio advertisements will stop as of Sept. 27. —.

Howard Ruff, an ultra-conservative Utah resident, ran anti-Hillary Clinton advertisements earlier in the election cycle. Ruff’s 20-year-old political action committee Ruff PAC paid for two separate ads in upstate New York. He planned to spend nearly $100,000 on the ads. One, called “Puppies and Babies,” proclaims that newborns and puppies have “all lived in New York longer than” Clinton. In his newsletter, Ruff Times, Ruff says his fear is that Clinton will use the Senate seat as a springboard for the presidency. “It is a lot easier to kill a 12-inch baby snake than a 12-foot king cobra,” Ruff writes.

Ruff pumped $3 million into campaigns in a single year during the 1980s. His political action committee, which stresses free enterprise, was fined $44,400 in 1993 for illegally funneling $23,000 to conservative congressional candidates, including Senator Jesse Helms, R-N.C.

Save Our Senate is a quiet conservative group that has been soliciting funding for the New York U.S. Senate race since the beginning of this year, according to Clinton’s campaign. Federal Election Commission filings reveal that the group has raised only $4,000 this election cycle.

Groups Supporting Clinton

The AFL-CIO, the nation’s largest labor federation, says it will not cooperate with the soft money agreement. On September 21, AFL-CIO president John Sweeney issued a written statement stating that labor wouldn’t sign the pact. Sweeney wrote that the AFL-CIO would continue its “efforts to inform and engage union members about public issues and candidates. We will never give up this fundamental right of association . . . “ He added, “We can never agree to silence our voices and surrender the debate to the many adversaries of unions and working families who will continue their efforts to shape public opinion and policies.”

The AFL-CIO gained national attention in 1996 for a $35 million issue advocacy campaign against Republican candidates. This election cycle, labor is refining its efforts, cutting back big-budget television advertisements and focusing on grassroots get-out-the-vote and door-to-door contact with union members. The AFL-CIO expects to spend $40 million this election cycle. It has already run advertisements about an array of issues — some candidate-related, some not. Labor spent $2 million on a television advertisement campaign opposing permanent normal trade relations with China. It has also run advertisements on health care and the “Patients’ Bill of Rights.”

The Association of the Trial Lawyers of America‘s PAC is approaching $5 million in contributions, and aside from about $20,000 in donations to the New York Democratic Party’s hard money accounts or directly to Clintons campaign, says it has no plans to be involved in the election, either through issue ads or grassroots political action in the state.

The Democratic Party at the state and national level has spent approximately $4.5 million, promoting Hillary Clinton’s candidacy, according to news reports. Under the terms of the agreement made by Lazio and Clinton, the parties may continue their “soft-money” expenditures on get-out-the-vote drives and direct-mail pieces, but party “soft-money” spending on television and radio advertisements was to stop as of Sept. 27.

The Liberal Party of New York, a 56-year-old group on whose ballot line Clinton is also running, is in “discussions,” according to executive director Martin Hassner, on whether or not it will participate in the election this year. “We were planning on doing strong things later, although we had not nailed down a dollar figure,” Hassner told the Center. “We are in the business to talk to the public about the worth of candidates we support. But we don’t want to hurt Clinton either. We will make a decision on our participation based on her needs.”

The Liberal Party spent $1.4 million in the last election cycle. The group has 97,000 dues-paying members.

In July, the New York National Abortion Rights Action League ran television ads targeting Lazio at a cost of $50,000. The advertisement called on Lazio to answer to New Yorkers on how he would vote in the U.S. Senate regarding the Supreme Court and abortion. The advertisement ran for two weeks and targeted suburban women. NARAL is a pro-choice advocacy organization founded 30 years ago.

According to The Washington Post, NARAL does not plan to cooperate with the candidates’ pledge. NARAL President Kate Michelman said her organization could not “participate in a campaign of silence,” The Post reported.

Education unions, such as the American Federation of Teachers and a little-known group the campaigns identify as the National Teachers Union, support Clinton. The AFT has more than one million members nationwide and 440,000 in New York state. The members are school employees, from bus drivers to cafeteria workers, and the group strongly backs the first lady. Alan Lubin, vice president of the New York affiliate, said he was unsure how his group would respond to the “soft money” pledge. The group spent more than $1 million in the last three weeks of the last election cycle and planned the same type of “soft money” expenditure for this election. The group also spent somewhere between $500,000 and $1 million on telephone banks and mailings to its membership supporting specific candidates. Lubin said the group still plans to spend this money. “We have every intention of communicating with our members,” Lubin told the Center. “We would like to comply with the soft money pledge, but truthfully, we don’t know what the pledge requires.”

Lubin said he believes that many of the groups supporting Lazio were actually created for this election and are not established groups.

The American Federation of Teachers was founded in 1972 . “We will try to cooperate if this pledge creates an equal playing field,” Lubin told the Center. “But what happens when someone throws an ad in the last week? Does the pledge provide for that kind of thing?”

The Sierra Club formally endorses Clinton, and has run advertisements for her. The Club ran an ad targeting New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani when the mayor was in considered in the race. The advertisement accused Guiliani of allowing New York drinking water to be threatened by development. This endorsement and other efforts are a part of the Sierra Clubs $8 million effort to affect 17 competitive congressional races this election.

The Working Families Party of New York raised $500,000 in soft money that it planned to spend on grassroots and get-out-the-vote efforts. Adam Glickman, communications director for the group, told the Center that the group has 200,000 pieces of literature to distribute at union work sites in support of Clintons campaign and another 200,000 “Dear Neighbor” letters to be disseminated in poor, minority communities to register people to vote. “Our plans have not been impacted by the pledge at all,” Glickman said. “The pledge is very explicit that it only deals with issue advocacy, and we are purely grassroots. In fact, we think the pledge is a good thing. It elevates the stature of a community precinct worker over the advertising executive. We think this is a good thing for democracy.” More than 50 labor unions are affiliated with the two-year-old party, and 5,000 New Yorkers are registered Working Families Party voters.

Read more in Money and Democracy

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