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Daschle Accountability Project Begins Fundraising With Attack on Minority Leader

A nonprofit organization that earlier this year pledged to “destroy” Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle’s political career has sent out a direct-mail appeal comparing the South Dakota Democrat to French President Jacques Chirac and the Rev. Al Sharpton.

The front of the Daschle Accountability Project mailer, which Roll Call obtained Monday, asks, “Who said: ‘This president failed so miserably at diplomacy that now we’re forced to war,’?” above pictures of Chirac, Daschle and Sharpton, a Democratic presidential candidate.

It references comments made by Daschle on March 17, two days before the war in Iraq officially began, when Daschle lambasted President Bush for his inability to line up United Nations support for the attack.

The Daschle Accountability Project is a creation of the Rushmore Policy Council, a 501(c)4 group, and is being spearheaded by RPC President Rob Regier.

“As a native of South Dakota, I have seen for some time how Senator Daschle operates,” Regier writes. “And I know that beneath his friendly smile lurks an extremely ruthless and partisan politician.”

Daschle is expected to seek a fourth term in November 2004 and is likely to be opposed by former Rep. John Thune (R). Thune, who narrowly lost a race to Sen. Tim Johnson (D) in 2002, has not publicly commented on the race but is expected to announce his candidacy in the fall.

The letter appears to be an attempt to jumpstart fundraising for DAP, which first appeared in news reports in Roll Call and the Sioux Falls Argus-Leader in late April.

In an interview Monday, Regier said the letter was the first official fundraising foray by the group and was meant to send a message to the Minority Leader.

“He can’t shut me up,” Regier said, noting that Daschle’s campaign has been threatening to release an audio tape of him urging a former girlfriend to have an abortion.

Regier admitted in a letter to supporters that he paid for the abortion but says he has since found Christ and urges others in his situation to make the opposite decision he once chose.

Regier said that Daschle’s “Larry Flynt politics are not going to stop the truth about his record coming out.”

The group’s initial budget for the project was $860,000, a sum that Regier and his associate Paul Erickson hoped to raise from a variety of conservative interest groups around the country, including such heavy hitters as the Club for Growth and the United Seniors Association.

It drew significant criticism from Daschle and other Democrats who alleged that an advertising campaign funded by a 501(c)4 group is a clear attempt to circumvent restrictions on political advertising in the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act.

Under Internal Revenue Service regulations, the Rushmore Policy Council can raise unlimited sums of money and does not need to disclose its donors, but it must not run ads that directly advocate the election or defeat of a candidate.

The fundraising letter began these attacks anew.

“This project is an end run around the campaign finance reform laws,” said Daschle spokesman Dan Pfeiffer. “It is a way for the Washington special-interest groups to funnel money into South Dakota under the radar screen.”

Interestingly, the ZIP code on the mail piece indicated that it had been sent from Waldorf, Md.

Regier defended his group’s activity, arguing that DAP is an attempt to influence issues, not elections.

Regier said the ongoing muddle over judicial nominations and a partial-birth abortion ban, which passed both houses of Congress but has slowed because the Senate has yet to appoint conferees, was the “last straw” against Daschle.

“We are playing within the rules,” said Regier. “We are trying to affect legislation.”

Regier added that NARAL Pro Choice America, a Washington-based 501(c)4, has pledged to run ads in a number of states but has not faced the scrutiny that his group receives.

NARAL Pro Choice America, however, files as a 501(c)4 with MCFL status that allows it to engage in much more overtly political activity because it takes contributions only from individuals.

It remains unclear how successful — financially and otherwise — DAP will be.

Regier would not comment on his budget, saying only, “It’s loose.”

He noted, however, that following the unexpected unveiling of the group three months ago he received phone calls and e-mails from all over the country pledging support.

“We can never compete with the Daschle machine dollar for dollar,” said Regier. “I would love to raise half the money Daschle has.”

Daschle ended June with nearly $2.9 million in the bank.

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