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Stand by your ad

From Judy Woodruff
CNN Washington Bureau

Democratic presidential candidates debate in Wisconsin.
Democratic presidential candidates debate in Wisconsin.

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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- This election year, federal candidates are standing by their ads in a way they never have before.

At the end of a TV campaign ad, Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards says: "I'm John Edwards and I approve this message." And at the end of his campaign ad, fellow Democrat Howard Dean says: "I'm Howard Dean and I approved this message because it's time to take our country back."

With those words, there's no mistaking who is responsible for a campaign ad and its contents -- a requirement of the Campaign Finance Reform Act signed into law in 2002 and upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court last year.

It bans "soft money" -- the unlimited and unregulated contributions to national political parties -- and it puts restrictions on advocacy ads in the weeks before an election. Advocacy ads are commercials criticizing or supporting a candidate's stand on an issue. The law also imposes contribution limits and donor disclosure requirements.

The statement of approval is designed to limit commercial mudslinging by forcing federal candidates to take credit for what is said in the spot.

Faced with this new restriction, campaigns are finding new outlets to "go negative."

For example, President Bush's re-election campaign produced a video that concludes with these words: "Kerry -- Brought to you by the special interests."

You don't see the president personally taking credit for this anti-Kerry message. That's because it is a Web video -- e-mailed to 6 million supporters -- and not covered by the campaign finance law.

The Kerry camp is fighting with fire, e-mailing its own video to supporters.

"Who's the politician who's taken more special interest money than anyone in history? The same one who's attacking John Kerry's record because he can't defend his own," the Kerry Web video says.

It isn't required, but the Kerry Web video does include a candidate disclaimer -- perhaps with an eye toward airing it on television down the road.

"I'm John Kerry," he says, "and I approved this message."

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