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Memo links shadow group's attacks on Rick Scott to Bill McCollum campaign

TALLAHASSEE — Attorney General Bill McCollum continues to distance himself from two shadowy political committees attacking his GOP primary opponent, but new evidence is surfacing to connect his campaign to the groups.

The latest is an e-mail obtained by the Times/Herald that asks McCollum campaign manager Matt Williams "for final approval" of a television advertisement blasting challenger Rick Scott for fraud committed by a hospital chain he built.

A Virginia-based nonprofit, Alliance for America's Future, spent $1.9 million to air the spot in May as Scott climbed to the lead in the hotly contested governor's race. Alliance is considered a 501c4 under the federal tax code and does not need to disclose its donors, who can give unlimited amounts.

McCollum denied any involvement at the time the commercials surfaced. But the May 25 memo is sent to a half-dozen McCollum staffers and appears to indicate the campaign had a direct say in the content of the advertisement.

"The e-mail is evidence that Attorney General Bill McCollum has violated Florida election laws and is lying about it," said Jennifer Baker, a Scott campaign spokeswoman.

Florida law requires Cabinet officials and state lawmakers to disclose if they are connected to a nonprofit political group, such as Alliance for America's Future.

McCollum's campaign denied the charges.

"The campaign did not approve the ad. Only the leadership of the Alliance for America's Future has the authority to do that," spokeswoman Kristy Campbell said.

The issue is whether the McCollum's involvement amounts to "control" — which is the legal standard that determines whether tougher disclosure requirements are mandated. But it's an amorphous rule and difficult to challenge under Florida elections law.

Alliance, run by Mary Cheney, the daughter of former Vice President Dick Cheney, was the first to attack Scott but not the last.

Earlier this month, a different group — Florida First Initiative — began airing advertisements blasting the care offered at Scott's hospital chain. And as with the Alliance, this group held strong connections to McCollum's camp.

The leaders of Florida First, who have refused to comment, used McCollum's name to solicit contributions and McCollum has acknowledged steering donors to them. At least $150,000 came from a political committee controlled by future House Speaker Dean Cannon, a major McCollum supporter.

The advertisements are designed to weaken Scott as he blankets the television airwaves with his own spots promoting his campaign. So far Scott has spent $16 million on advertising while the McCollum campaign has spent less than $1 million, not counting the advertising buys of the two anonymous groups.

Memo links shadow group's attacks on Rick Scott to Bill McCollum campaign 06/21/10 [Last modified: Tuesday, June 22, 2010 7:56am]
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