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Republicans for Clean Air

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This article is part of the Center for Media & Democracy's spotlight on front groups and corporate spin.

Republicans for Clean Air (RCA) was a front group created by supporters of George W. Bush in his 2000 presidential primary campaign against John McCain. According to an April 6, 2000, article in the Dallas Observer, Rob Allyn was a key player in the George W. Bush campaign to discredit his rival and was paid $46,000 to help create the ad described below. [1].

Beginning in February 2000, RCA spent $2.5 million to run television ads in the key primary states of California, Ohio and New York. The ads showed McCain's face superimposed on a backdrop of smokestacks belching dark clouds, accused McCain of voting against solar and renewable energy and claimed that then-Governor Bush was responsible for improving air quality in his home state of Texas.

In fact, as Texas-based columnist Molly Ivins observed, "Texas has very dirty air. According to the North American Commission on Environmental Cooperation set up by NAFTA, we pollute more than any other state or Canadian province. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, Texas is No. 1 in overall toxic releases, recognized carcinogens in the air, suspected carcinogens in the air, developmental toxins in the air, cancer risk and 10 other equally depressing categories." [2]

The Center for Public Integrity noted that RCA "had neither an office nor a phone number, just a post office box in northern Virginia. The news media and McCain's campaign scrambled to identify the group's directors and backers". [3] They noted that less than a week after the ads ran and McCain had been defeated on "Super Tuesday", were the sponsors identified.

The money came from Dallas billionaires Sam and Charles Wyly, investment bankers and friends of Bush. Charles Wyly was a Bush "pioneer," one of an elite group that raised $100,000 for Bush's 2000 presidential campaign.

Initially, RCA concealed its funding, using a loophole in Section 527 of the U.S. tax code, which requires political parties and political action committees to report their work to the Federal Election Commission. Under the loophole, groups involved in "issue advocacy" rather than explicit campaigning for candidates candidates were allowed to use the 527 status without reporting to the FEC, enabling groups like RCA to operate as what came to be called "stealth PACs."

In response to the ads, the McCain campaign filed a complaint with the FCC about the RCA's anonymity of Republicans for Clean Air. Bush himself defended the ads. "That's part of the American process," he said. "That's what freedom of speech is all about. This allegation that somehow I'm involved with this is just totally ridiculous. It is uncalled-for. There is no truth to it."

After the Wylys' role in funding RCA became public knowledge, the Sierra Club issued a news release noting that the Wylys "have given hundreds of thousands of dollars to anti-environmental politicians who have voted to weaken the Clean Air Act." Sierra Club Executive Director Carl Pope stated that the ads were "polluting the airwaves with false information about George W. Bush's terrible environmental record. 'Republicans for Clean Air' should pull these ads that paint a false picture of Gov. Bush's poor record governing the most polluted state in America." [4]

Following public controversy over the role that RCA and other stealth PACs played in the 2000 election, Congress subsequently passed legislation requiring 527 organizations that engage in issue advocacy to publicly report their financing.

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