A federal judge in Toledo could decide today whether to prohibit an independent political organization from airing a television ad in Ohio that portrays Sen. Hillary Clinton in a positive light but without expressly urging her election.
U.S. District Judge Jack Zouhary heard complaints yesterday from attorneys for Sen. Mike Gravel, a Democratic candidate for president running against Mrs. Clinton and Sen. Barack Obama on some state ballots, but not in Ohio.
The commercial was produced by American Leadership Project, a California-based 527 organization, so-called by its designation in the federal tax code.
Mr. Gravel claims the commercial, now running only on YouTube, is "clearly an appeal for people to vote for Hillary," which violates its status as an independent group under federal election law.
Roger Salazar, a Sacramento political consultant and spokesman for American Leadership Project, said the group has no connection with Mrs. Clinton. He said the ad meets the Federal Elections Commission's guidelines for an issues ad that does not advocate a specific candidate. Mr. Salazar volunteered that he was an assistant press secretary under President Bill Clinton.
The ALP Web site prominently displays a phone number to contact Mrs. Clinton's office in Washington.
The ad begins with what politically aware viewers might hear as a slap at Mr. Obama. Mrs. Clinton has criticized Mr. Obama as a good speech maker, but with little record of accomplishment. It goes on to portray Mrs. Clinton as an advocate for the middle class.
"If speeches could create jobs, we wouldn't be facing a recession. But it takes more. As senator, Hillary Clinton passed legislation to bring investment and jobs to struggling communities, and worked to end tax breaks for corporations sending jobs overseas. Her economic blueprint is endorsed by [Ohio] Governor [Ted] Strickland. Tell Hillary to keep on working on these solutions for the middle class."
Toledo lawyer Richard Kerger, the local attorney for the case, said the timing of the ad a few days before the election, the reference to Governor Strickland, who has endorsed Mrs. Clinton, and the use of language from her speeches, all indicate to the viewer that it's a campaign pitch.
A response by American Leadership Project's lawyers to the lawsuit said the federal court does not have jurisdiction and the complaint is an infringement on its First Amendment rights.
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