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Political Ads Aren't Independent Of Party

It has become common for the national political parties to use "independent expenditures" on campaign ads, like the Republican National Committee did with its racist spot in Tennessee that was aimed at Democratic Rep. Harold E. Ford Jr., who is running for Senate.

But when demands came to pull the ad, they exposed a strange intricacy of the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002, suggesting the overhaul of the nation's campaign finance law. The quirk has prompted top Republicans to claim plausible deniability for the content of the ad and to say they were not at liberty to stop its run--even though they take responsibility for the content in a disclaimer.

As the furor over the ad started to build, RNC chief Ken Mehlman said he had no "legal authority" to pull the ad. But that statement is based on an interpretation of the relevant provisions of BCRA that party campaign committees are permitted to finance the production of "independent" ads, but are not permitted to have any say over the content or their scheduling for air time.

Lawrence M. Noble, former general counsel for the Federal Elections Commission, says it can be presumed that these "independent" wings are made up of people who are hired and can be fired by the national party--meaning that the general party is ultimately responsible for the ad.

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