Swift Boat, MoveOn pay price for mud slinging

Groups responsible for the most prominent mud-slinging television ads of the 2004 presidential campaign have agreed to pay fines for violating federal election laws.

Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, the group behind the TV ad that harshly attacked Sen. John Kerry’s war record, and Moveon.org Voter Fund, producer of some of the sharpest ads against President Bush, will pay $299,500 and $150,000, respectively, because they failed to register as political action committees, the Federal Elections Commission announced Wednesday.

A third group, the League of Conservation Voters, which went door-to-door in support of Kerry, agreed to pay $180,000 for a similar violation.

All three groups were known as 527 orgs because of the section of the U.S. tax code that allows them to operate. A 527 can solicit and accept unlimited cash donations from a variety of sources. Political action committees are limited to contributions of $5,000 or less.

But according to an FEC statement, “If an organization receives contributions or makes expenditures in excess of $1,000, and its major purpose is involvement in campaign activity, it must register with the commission and abide by the contribution restrictions and reporting requirements of the Federal Election Campaign Act.”

“Through their public statements, solicitations for contributions and various communications to the public, these organizations clearly established that they were political committees during the 2004 campaign,” statement continued. “Their failure to register with the commission, abide by contribution limits and prohibitions and file disclosure reports resulted in the organizations agreeing to pay … civil penalties.”

FEC data show Swift Boat Veterans spent $20 million — more than 90% of its budget — on TV and direct-mail attacks on Kerry’s Vietnam War record. Moveon.org spent $14.6 million. or 70% of its budget, on TV attack ads.

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