GOP criticizes Carnahan for groups' protests

Sunday, April 14, 2002

WASHINGTON -- Stung by criticism of their candidate for U.S. Senate, Missouri Republicans are firing back at Democratic Sen. Jean Carnahan and her supporters.

The GOP is trying to link the senator, two groups and a union they say are illegally using charitable donations to campaign against Republican Jim Talent.

"That is very, very serious, in terms of the kinds of people she's associating her campaign with," said Ann Wagner, who chairs the Missouri Republican Party and co-chairs the Republican National Committee.

"These are extreme organizations and groups that have the appearance of being involved in illegal activity," Wagner said. "She needs to call on them to cease and desist and disassociate herself. She is letting them do her bidding."

Dan Leistikow, spokesman for Carnahan, said the groups are not part of her campaign. He said Republicans are trying to deflect attention away from allegations that Talent, through a political committee and part-time jobs as a lobbyist and college teacher, last year collected campaign money in excess of legal limits.

"Furthermore, these accusations appear to be an effort to stifle and intimidate any organization that disagrees with Mr. Talent on the issues," Leistikow said.

Carnahan, 68, and Talent, 45, are expected to be nominated and appear on the ballot in November.

She was appointed to the Senate seat won posthumously by her husband, the late Gov. Mel Carnahan, and must run this year if she wants to finish out the term. He is a former congressman from St. Louis who narrowly lost the 2000 governor's race to Democrat Bob Holden.

Parties make charges

The two have refrained from making attacks; instead, the two political parties have been making the charges.

At issue are two St. Louis-based advocacy groups, Missouri Progressive Vote Coalition, or Pro-Vote, and Missouri Citizens Education Fund, as well as the local chapter of the Service Employees International Union.

Wagner said the party expects to pursue complaints with the Internal Revenue Service and the Federal Election Commission, charging:

The Missouri Citizens Education Fund, a charitable group that gets tax-deductible contributions, gives a significant chunk of its funds to Pro-Vote, whose political activity includes protesting Talent, President Bush and other politicians.

For example, Pro-Vote demonstrated last month outside a fund-raising event for Talent's women supporters, with some members carrying signs that read, "Jim Talent ... Too Extreme for Missouri." Outside Bush's fund raiser, Pro-Vote distributed leaflets about the demise of Enron Corp.

Federal tax law prohibits tax-deductible contributions to charities from being used to support the activities of politically active groups such as Pro-Vote. The law also restricts Pro-Vote and groups like it from engaging in activity "on behalf of or in opposition to any candidate for public office."

Republicans also suggest an abuse of federal election law, because they say the union and the groups' efforts, offices and resources are being used on Mrs. Carnahan's behalf and would carry a monetary value above the legal limit.

And they say money that changed hands from Missouri Citizens Education Fund to Pro-Vote was actually used for political activity, which they say violates a state law requiring certain groups to report spending money in attempt to influence voters.

'We're about issues'

Activist John Hickey, who runs the two groups, said he is careful to follow the law and that it is legal for the tax-exempt, charitable Missouri Citizens Education Fund to contract with Pro-Vote.

"That's very common practice in how nonprofit groups work," Hickey said. "We're about the issues, not about particular federal candidates. What would be improper is for a group like ours that doesn't take federal candidate positions to have a leaflet that says to vote this way or vote that way."

Kenneth Gross, a Washington election lawyer who headed enforcement efforts at the Federal Election Commission in the 1980s, said the groups' operations sounded as though they were proper.

"It's in large part an accounting task," Gross said.

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