This past month, Sen. John McCain's presidential campaign paid tens of thousands of dollars to a vendor that was simultaneously working on behalf of a independent group attacking Sen. Barack Obama.
The $47,000 paid to the company Campaign Solutions for web services, on the surface, seems benign. But the expenditure brushes against the campaign's newly implemented policy which states: "No McCain campaign vendor may work with a 527 or independent group without a pre-approved legal 'firewall.'"
Campaign Solutions, records show, also provides web services to Citizens United, a conservative nonprofit group headed by David Bossie and founded by Floyd Brown, famed Republican dirty tricksters. The website for Citizens United features a bevy of sharp attacks on Obama -- sample: "BARACK OBAMA - THE CHOICE OF TERRORISTS" -- and solicits donations for an anti-Obama documentary film.
In addition, Brown runs the website ExposeObama.com, which was founded in March 2008 and describes itself as a "group of conservatives concerned that Barack Hussein Obama would be the worst possible President for America at this time, or any time." ExposeObama.com is paid for by a PAC, established by Brown, called the National Campaign Fund.
Asked about the expenditure, a McCain aide first noted that Citizens United is a 501c4 organization, not a 527 group. But the new McCain policy also restricts vendors that work with "independent groups," such as Citizens United, which are tax-exempt and can engage in political activity.
Later, another campaign aide said that an internal firewall had been in place at Campaign Solutions since last year, thereby restricting communication coordination. This was the case, the aide said, "long before this [new] policy was in place. So they are fully compliant with our policy." The campaign refused to offer documentation of the firewall.
Even if the expenditure is accepted under McCain's new internal campaign rules, it does, tangentially, create a problematic connection to Bossie and Brown, two figures renowned for aggressive attack politics. Bossie, who recently authored the book, "Hillary: The Politics of Personal Destruction," recently told Newsweek that he is "assembling material for TV spots about Obama's ties with [Bill] Ayers." Brown, likewise, told Time magazine that "he had established several other front groups to fund a long-range effort to erode Obama's support." He has already produced an ad attacking Obama and Sen. Hillary Clinton for his 527 group Citizens for a Safe and Prosperous America.
McCain already has had to distance himself from one Republican operative who was spearheading an anti-Obama effort. Last Friday, the Senator's campaign appeared blindsided by revelations that an influential but unpaid adviser, Craig Shirley, had been hosting an anti-Obama website. Shirley resigned after Politico revealed his work for the 527 Stop Her Now -- an organization that was initially dedicated to taking on Sen. Hillary Clinton but had turned its sights on Obama.
Shirley, like Brown, worked on the infamous Willie Horton advertisements during the Dukakis campaign. And both individuals did PR work to attack Sen. John Kerry in 2004.
[The article has been slightly corrected from its original form]