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    GOP: Teachers' McBride ad illegal

    By ADAM C. SMITH, Times Political Editor
    © St. Petersburg Times
    published July 19, 2002

    The Florida Republican Party Thursday accused the state's teachers union of paying for an illegal ad for gubernatorial candidate Bill McBride and asked television stations to stop running it.

    "Bill McBride and his campaign have trampled on Florida's campaign finance laws," said David Johnson, executive director of the state GOP, promising to file a complaint with the Florida Elections Commission.

    The Florida Education Association paid for the 30-second ad, which started running this week in Tampa Bay and other markets. The union paid for the ad through a recently formed corporation that under federal law is barred from running ads that specifically urge voters to vote for a particular candidate. But such groups are giving wide discretion to run ads that effectively serve that purpose.

    The spot was produced by McBride's media consultant and touts the Tampa lawyer's life story.

    "From coaching Little League to spearheading the United Way, he's served his community," it says. "Endorsed by Florida's teachers, as governor Bill McBride will reduce class size and improve our schools."

    The teachers union scoffed at the GOP complaint, noting that the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1976 that even ads clearly signaling support for a candidate do not necessarily constitute a political ad, so long as the ad does not use terms such as "vote for."

    "They know those ads are legal. I think they're rattled by Bill McBride," said FEA spokesman Tony Welch.

    Johnson called it an obvious "paid political commercial" rather than a permissible issue ad and said it exceeds the $500 limit on contributions to individual candidates.

    The FEA corporation that bought the ads does not reveal its contributors except to the IRS. Johnson called on McBride and the FEA to reveal the contributors, and said the party might challenge McBride's right to accept public campaign financing.

    Todd Harris, spokesman for Gov. Jeb Bush's campaign, said the teachers union ad, if permitted, effectively makes Florida's laws limiting campaign contributions irrelevant.

    "Given everything that's been in the news in the past few months about Arthur Andersen and WorldCom, I'm not sure the public is going to be interested in electing someone for governor whose campaign uses sneaky accounting to pay for campaign ads and using secret donors," said Harris.

    Alan Stonecipher, a spokesman for McBride, referred questions to the FEA. He said neither McBride nor his family members contributed to the FEA corporation.

    The FEA has said it may run more ads for McBride, and the AFL-CIO expects to run ads on his behalf in late August or early September. McBride is running for the Sept. 10 Democratic nomination against Janet Reno and state Sen. Daryl Jones of Miami for the right to challenge Bush in November.

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