Democratic ad campaign plan disbanded

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Clinton’s supporters abandoned plans to raise money for an anti-Republican TV ad campaign as a long-running feud between the White House and congressional Democrats spilled into the open Tuesday.
White House Chief of Staff Erskine Bowles scheduled a meeting with Democratic congressional leaders late Tuesday, hoping to end a bitter exchange that threatened party unity just five weeks before the Nov. 3 midterm elections.
Congressional Democrats suspected that the $3 million to $5 million ad plan was designed to help Clinton survive impeachment proceedings, instead of aiding cash-strapped Democrats running for election.
“It was a very dumb idea,” said Sen. Bob Kerrey of Nebraska, chairman of the Democratic Senate campaign committee. “The president is not on the ballot. If you’re going to spend money, you ought to spend it on candidates who are on the ballot. We’re not exactly flush,” he said.
A senior presidential adviser involved in the fund-raising plan, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the project was dropped Tuesday at the request of the White House. “The heat was too much,” he said. The White House promised to tell its supporters to donate to Democratic candidates.
The acrimony was a result of confusion and misunderstanding over a confluence of informal plans to portray Republicans’ handling of impeachment proceedings as partisan. It exposed a bitter internal debate over whether the White House and the Democratic National Committee are doing enough to elect Senate and House candidates.
Officials with the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee want the DNC to ante up more money for its candidates. They question whether the party is spending too much cash on White House operations, such as polling and consulting fees.
A series of joint fund-raisers headlined by Clinton — ironically called “unity events” — are lagging slightly behind the $18 million goal and further erode campaign budgets, said an official with one of the committees.
Democratic congressional leaders were using the blowup to lobby the White House for a commitment to “unique methods of raising more money” in the election’s final weeks, the official said. Clinton could do more fund-raisers, the official suggested, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Firing back, a senior Democratic strategist familiar with the DNC operation said the party has already raised and borrowed all the money it can; it’s time, the official said, for the House and Senate campaign committees to raise more money themselves.
The DNC recently agreed to co-sign a $3 million loan, the most allowed by its bankers, and split it equally between the House and Senate campaign committees.
“That $3 million is simply one piece of a whole complex, multifaceted strategy,” said party general chairman Steve Grossman, defending the DNC in a telephone interview.
Congressional Democrats also feared that the attack-Republicans strategy would stir up the Democrats’ hard-core voters, who would then pressure candidates to defend Clinton. That could hurt candidates in marginal districts filled with voters who don’t support the president.
Clinton has had a rocky relationship with party leaders since he arrived from Arkansas in 1993, then ran for re-election in 1996 on a strategy that distanced himself from congressional Democrats.
The most recent dispute began amid media reports that:
ù A liberal advocacy group called People for the American Way was planning a TV ad campaign that would criticize the GOP-led Congress for focusing on the Monica Lewinsky inquiry instead of issues such as education.
ù Flooded by calls from wealthy donors and interest groups wanting to help the president, White House aides urged them to coalesce around an effort to increase voter turnout among Democrats. Aides directed these supporters to each other, but were not actively coordinating any campaign, they said.
ù Clinton’s army of fund-raisers were planning to pull together $3 million to $5 million for one or both operations.
Democrat congressional leaders got wind of the operations and assumed they were designed to bolster Clinton’s chances to survive the Lewinsky scandal.
White House and congressional sources said Bowles told congressional leaders that the White House would now tell supporters to donate to candidates’ campaigns, not issue advocacy efforts.
The advocacy group still plans to run the ads, but without the organized effort of Clinton backers.