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Issue Ads Loophole Expected To Expand In 1998

By Brooks Jackson/CNN

WASHINGTON (Dec. 4) -- Think last year's campaign money was a problem? Get ready for Campaign '98. Experts predict an even greater explosion of special-interest money will be used in the upcoming election season to finance advocacy ads.

In 1996, many such ads criticizing a specific candidate were paid for by corporate money. And there's more where that came from.

Charles Mack, of the Business-Industry Political Action Committee, said, "There are going to be more players on the business side than there were last year."

Labor started it last year, with $22 million in union money on ads attacking Republicans. Then business fired back with millions in corporate dollars.

Union money and corporate money are illegal in federal campaigns, but "issue" ads are careful not to specifically say "vote for" or against anybody.

Experts say that loophole is bound to expand. "There's no limit on the amount of money you can raise. There's no limit legally on the amount of money you can spend and there's no limit on the amount of groups that can participate this way in the process. How can it go anything but up?" Mack said.

Democrats pushed the issue-ad loophole to the maximum last year and Republicans already are using the same loophole this year.

They spent nearly $800,000 on an ad that attacked the record of Eric Vitaliano, the Democratic candidate in New York's 13th District. After that, Vitaliano lost last month's special House election.

Shadowy independent groups are also expected to multiply, with more ads like a 1996 commercial savaging Democratic Senate candidate Bill Yellowtail. The group that paid for that ad still won't say where the money came from.

"The first thing you're going to see is a great increase in hidden money given to influence the congressional races by people who want something for their money," Democracy 21's Fred Wertheimer said.

Despite a year of investigations and scandal, nothing has changed. And the way things are going, next year's elections could begin to resemble those of the 19th century: a return to unlimited use of business money and secrecy.

In Other News:

Thursday Dec. 4, 1997

White House Takes Jab At Freeh
Arlington Controversy Stirs Again
Race Relations Panel Far Behind Schedule
Issue Ads Loophole Expected To Expand In 1998
Reno Defends Independent Counsel Decision
Former Clinton Fund-Raiser Indicted In Bribery Case
DNC's Money Woes Crimp Clintons' Holiday Style
Gore Adds Political Aides

News Briefs:
Bush Keeps Focus on Texas
DNC Searches for Convention Home
Abernathy Fined for Drug Possession
Fire In The House?
Former Missouri Speaker Sentenced

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