Last night on NBC’s Nightly News, Michael Isikoff reported that a network of special interest money led by Karl Rove is “expecting to raise $250 million to flood the airwaves in these last few weeks of the election.” Rove has been able to raise all of this money from millionaires and billionaires by promising them anonymity.
In 2004, Rove benefited from a similar avalanche of outside money in his quest to help secure President Bush’s re-election. The Swift Boat Veterans for Truth were funded in part by Texas homebuilder Bob Perry, who is now funding Rove’s new group. The Swift Boat group, which operated as a 527, received over $20 million in donations to air television ads that smeared the war record of Sen. John Kerry (D-MA).
After the 2004 election concluded, Rove was asked how he felt about the impact of outside groups spending millions of dollars to shape the outcome of elections. Echoing a line offered by many Democrats today, Rove said the potential for a few wealthy contributors to tip the electoral balance was a concern and could potentially undermine democracy:
Rove said the 527s — named for the section of the tax code they are formed under — potentially undermine democracy by allowing a few wealthy individuals to spend tens of millions of dollars under less stringent disclosure requirements than before campaign laws were overhauled more than two years ago. These groups, first exploited by Democrats and later joined by Republicans, existed because of a huge loophole in the new law.
Democratic donors, led by at least $27 million from billionaire George Soros, funded such anti-Bush groups as America Coming Together and the Media Fund. Republican leaders originally thought these groups would be prohibited by the Federal Election Commission but when they were not, GOP activists joined the 527 parade late in the campaign. The Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, which ran ads attacking Kerry’s Vietnam War service and anti-war activities, were the most notable of these groups on Bush’s side.
Rove condemned them all.
“I am a firm believer in strong (political) parties, and things that weaken the parties and place the outcome of elections in the hands of billionaires who can write checks and political consultants who can get themselves hired by billionaires who write the checks, give me some concern,” Rove said.
Of course, these days Rove isn’t as big a believer in strong political parties, as he works to build a “shadow RNC.” He also isn’t as concerned about the subversion of democracy at the hands of a few wealthy donors. Instead, when President Obama makes the argument that Rove did in 2004, the Rove of 2010 slams him for having an “enemies list” and engaging in a “desperate political ploy.”
In a Fox News interview with Bill O’Reilly on Nov. 1, 2004, here’s what President Bush said:
O’REILLY: OK. Do you think the swift boat vets’ charges against Kerry are unfair?
BUSH: I think that these ads — first of all, I said clearly, all these ads, these 527s, with billionaires funding campaigns, ought to be gone.
,In an interview with CNN on Aug. 31, 2004, Rove said:
ROVE: Look, I’m against all the 527 ads and activities. I don’t think they’re fair. I don’t think it’s appropriate. They’re misusing the law. They all ought to stop.