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State rules for Bush in money flap

The state Elections Commission has dismissed a complaint filed by Gov. Lawton Chiles against Republican challenger Jeb Bush over television time purchased by the Bush campaign.

Chiles accused Bush of attempting to hide $175,000 by buying television commercials through a media consultant instead of directly purchasing the time from individual television stations.

In a letter to the campaign, commission attorney Barbara Linthicum said the allegations in the complaint did not violate campaign finance laws.

Bush said the unfounded complaint was yet another attempt by Chiles to get "enough tax money to keep his sinking campaign afloat."

"My campaign has consistently complied with the letter of the campaign finance law as it has been applied by this and other statewide campaigns since the beginning of this election cycle, and as it has been applied by other statewide campaigns in other election cycles," Bush said. "We will continue to do so."

The fuss is over a provision of the law that appears to require candidates to write a separate check for each advertising purchase. For years many candidates for statewide office have written a single check to a consultant who makes all of the individual advertising buys, and the Elections Commission has refused to take action against candidates when complaints are filed.

The law generated little controversy in the past, but this year the new public financing law allows Chiles to collect state matching money because Bush has spent more than $5-million. Bush elected not to use public financing and has not collected public money.

The flap arose over a $175,000 advertising purchase made by Bush's media consultant on Oct. 13. The campaign paid the media consultant on Oct. 17, three days after the reporting period ended for expenditures during the first two weeks of October. That means that Chiles will have to wait until the next campaign report is filed Nov. 4 before he can collect state matching funds.

The uproar has sparked angry rhetoric from both campaigns.

"Now is the time for Lawton Chiles to lift his eyes from the public trough at which he has been feeding for 34 years and start defending his liberal record of failure as governor," Bush said after learning the complaint had been dismissed.

"Feeding at the public trough or taking money hand over fist from out-of-state special interests?" said Chiles spokeswoman Jo Miglino. "This campaign isn't about feeding at the public trough. It's about raising money at the grass-roots level from people all across this state."

Miglino said Chiles is merely complying with the state's public financing law and trying to make Bush comply with it.

"No matter what the Elections Commission says, Jeb Bush is breaking the law by buying air time through a media buyer," Miglino added.

The Bush campaign disagrees.

"We're following the law," said press secretary Cory Tilley. "They were just trying to get their money faster."