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Election 2004

New ads featuring bin Laden criticize Castor

In a newspaper ad and fliers, a new GOP group says John Kerry and Betty Castor haven't stood up to terrorists.

Published October 30, 2004

TALLAHASSEE - The face of Osama bin Laden looks out from the newspaper ad.

"Who do you think Osama bin Laden would prefer?" the headline asks.

Beneath the question are photos of Democrats John Kerry and Betty Castor.

The ad was published in two Florida newspapers this week by the Florida Leadership Council, a new group of Republicans who say they are trying to counter the millions of dollars in expenditures by independent Democratic groups.

Cory Tilley, former communications director for Gov. Jeb Bush, and David Johnson, former executive director of the Florida GOP, are leading the group, which got a $425,000 contribution from H. Wayne Huizenga, the South Florida millionaire who has donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to Republicans in the past decade.

"Our effort is to push back a little bit against all of the liberal groups that are targeting the president," Tilley said Friday.

The Center for Public Integrity reported Friday that more than $391-million has been raised by independent committees this year. Top spenders were committees that formed to try to defeat the president.

Tilley said his committee will mount a significant direct mail and telephone campaign in the next few days. The mail campaign accuses Castor and Kerry of being soft on terrorism.

Castor, locked in a tight race with Republican Mel Martinez for the U.S. Senate, called the ad "a scurrilous thing" and said she doesn't believe people will respond well to it.

"It's very sad someone would put so much money into something that is so hateful," Castor said. "Our mailers have been very bright, positive, education-type things. This is like getting hit with a two-by-four."

Bush said it isn't fair to compare Castor to bin Laden.

"Thank God (bin Laden) doesn't have the right to vote," Bush said.

Asked about the ad at a campaign stop in Pensacola on Friday, Martinez declined to comment, saying he had not seen the ad.

The newspaper ad and fliers are harshly critical.

"Betty Castor had a record on terrorism, she had them working for her," the ad says. "She took a really tough stand, she wrote a memo."

The ad refers to Sami Al-Arian, a former University of South Florida professor now facing federal terrorism charges. Castor suspended him with pay when she was USF president but said she could not legally fire him because no law enforcement agency was willing to charge him with anything at the time. USF president Judy Genshaft fired Al-Arian last year, after he was indicted.

One of the fliers the group is mailing out this weekend includes pictures of schoolchildren wearing gas masks in class with the headline, "First day of school: Eighth Grade South Florida Middle School, 2007.

Tilley's committee was formed July 14 and registered with the Internal Revenue Service as required by law. Other named officers are Nancy Watkins, a Tampa accountant frequently employed by Florida Republicans, and Todd Thomson and James C. Rimes Jr., former employees of the state party who now work as private consultants in Tallahassee.

An Oct. 13 report filed by the committee indicates that it collected $466,000. Besides Huizenga's money, $30,000 was contributed by Phil & Associates Inc., a Clearwater business owned by Phillip R. Wasserman, a disbarred lawyer who once claimed he was a member of Chicago and Detroit mob families.

In 1996, when Wasserman was suspended from the practice of law by the Florida Supreme Court and seeking bankruptcy protection from his creditors, he blamed his troubles on mobsters who feared he might be part of a plot to take over a Mafia family.

Wasserman could not be reached Friday.

Other contributions included $10,000 from Asher Candy of Souderton, Pa; $2,000 from Molloy & James, a Tampa law firm; $5,000 from James W. Holton, a Madeira Beach lawyer; and $1,000 from Dowell Systems Inc. of Tampa.

Staff writers Anita Kumar and Steve Bousquet and researcher John Martin contributed to this report.

[Last modified October 30, 2004, 01:56:24]

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