Thursday, July 1, 2004

Ohio epicenter of anti-Bush group's national offensive

By Carl Weiser
Enquirer Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON - The top anti-Bush group in the country has spent more money in Ohio than in any other state where it operates, a study released today shows.

America Coming Together, a nonprofit dedicated to defeating Bush by getting out anti-Bush votes, has deployed at least 700 people in Ohio and spent $1.1 million. And those figures cover October through March, before the campaign in Ohio got even fiercer.

"This probably confirms something many Ohioans suspected: They really are the focus of the election," said Derek Willis, who wrote the report for The Center for Public Integrity, a nonpartisan Washington group that monitors money in politics.

A separate analysis by Willis, performed at the Enquirer's request, showed that the group has been focusing on Columbus and Cleveland and other Democratic areas. It spent less money in Cincinnati than it did in Shaker Heights or Beachwood, two Cleveland suburbs.

"We've knocked on more than 100,000 doors in Cincinnati since last September and talked to more than 20,000 people at their doors in Cincinnati," said ACT Ohio's spokesman, Jess Goode.

The organization is legally barred from "coordinating" with the presidential campaign of Sen. John Kerry, though no one is quite sure what that means. The group works closely with labor-funded groups and its top donors include financier George Soros, Cleveland insurance executive Peter Lewis and RealNetworks founder Rob Glaser.

The Bush campaign charges that America Coming Together is the voter registration arm of the Democratic Party and the Kerry campaign. The group has also acknowledged employing felons for the door-to-door canvassing.

"People in Ohio have the right to know whether or not convicted rapists or murderers are showing up at their door registering voters," said Bush campaign spokesman Kevin Madden. "It says a lot about their campaign. Ohio voters are going to take that into account when they cast their ballots."

Goode said the group sends out about 200 to 250 people every night to register voters and lobby them to oppose President Bush.

"Our policy is to not hire felons with any violent history or who we feel would cause any concern whatsoever," said Goode. The group is conducting background checks on all its employees.

Ohio was the first state where America Coming Together set up campaign offices, doing so last October. Ohio is considered one of the key swing states - if not the key swing state - in the 2004 presidential election, a fact Ohioans can hardly have missed between the ads, the candidate visits, and the canvassers from groups like ACT.

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