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A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

Bush’s Misleading Attack Video

Internet attack ad says Kerry got most 'special interest money' of any senator. He didn't. And Bush got lots more.


The Bush campaign sent an e-mail Feb. 12 to six million supporters with a link to an Internet video attacking Kerry for being “unprincipled.” The ad claims Kerry got “more special interest money than any other senator,” which is false.

While it is true that Kerry got $640,000 over the past 15 years from individual lobbyists, that’s only one type of special-interest money. And the Bush campaign itself has reported raising $960,000 from individual lobbyists in the past year alone.

The ad says Kerry got “millions from executives at HMO’s, telecoms, drug companies,” which is true — for Kerry’s entire political career. But so far Kerry’s presidential campaign has received a small fraction of what the Bush campaign has received from those particular sources. By any definition, Bush’s “special interest” money greatly exceeds Kerry’s.


The ad starts by misquoting a Washington Post newspaper story from Jan. 31.

An image of the Post’s Web site is shown as a soft female voice — supposedly reading aloud — says “John Kerry . . . More special interest money than any other senator.” But that’s not what the Post story said. What the newspaper really said was that Kerry “has raised more money from paid lobbyists than any other senator over the past 15 years.” There’s a big difference.

Individual lobbyists are only one category of donor normally classified as “special interests,” as the Bush ad itself indirectly acknowledges later on. And Kerry refuses to take any money at all from political action committees (PACs), which are often controlled by lobbyists and which give far more in total than the individual lobbyists themselves. So far, for example, Senate Republican Leader Bill Frist reported $1,022,063 in PAC donations for his 2004 campaign alone, according to online tallies available as of Feb. 13 at the Center for Responsive Politics. Sen. Mitch McConnell, the Republican whip, reported getting $1,316,670, Democratic Senate Leader Tom Daschle got $1,533,069 and Democratic Whip Harry Reid got $1,580,627. So the Bush ad’s claim that Kerry got more special interest money than other senators is simply false.

In fact, Bush himself has raised far more from special interests than Kerry. Look at the following table — based on figures tallied by the Center for Responsive Politics from reports filed with the Federal Election Commission by the Bush and Kerry campaigns.

Special Interest Money

(Selected Industries)

(Donations to 2004 Presidential Campaign)



Paid Lobbyists



Lawyers & Law Firms



Real Estate






Health Professionals












Telephone Utilities



Health Services/HMOs






Source: www.opensecrets.org

Looking only at individual lobbyists, Bush has reported getting four times as much as Kerry in this presidential race.

Looking at the other categories of “special interests” mentioned specifically in the ad, Bush has received five times as much from HMO’s, seven times as much from the pharmaceutical industry, and 28 times as much from telephone utilities.

Bush has even edged out Kerry — so far — for Hollywood money, a traditional source of financial strength for Democrats. Bush took in more than half a million from the TV/Movies/Music sector, while Kerry reports getting $475,000.

It is just as the Post story said in a sentence not quoted in the Bush ad: “All the presidential candidates take money from special interests. . . . And Bush has far outpaced them all.

(Note: Kerry also has reported raising and spending more than $2 million through a separate political organization, the “Citizen Soldier Fund.” But even counting that group’s special-interest donations still don’t bring Kerry’s totals close to the Bush campaign’s totals in any category).

“Brought to you by special interests”

Bush-Cheney ’04 Ad:

Female Voice: John Kerry.

Kerry (giving speech after New Hampshire victory): I have a message for the influence peddlers and the special interests. We’re coming, you’re going.

Female Voice: Sounds good.

(Types “special interests” into computer search engine)

Special In-ter-ests.

(Reading Washington Post story on Internet) More special interest money than any other senator. How much?

(Figure $640,000 appears)

Ohhh. For what?

(Reads news story)

Nominations and donations coincided. Wait. Watchdog Groups.

(Center for Public Integrity Web site appears)

Fact. Kerry – “Brought to you by the special interests.” Millions from executives at HMOs, telecoms, drug companies. Ka-Ching! Unprincipled?

Kerry (giving speech): I have a message for the influence peddlers, and the special interests, and the special interests, and the special interests…”

The  voice in the Bush ad goes on — supposedly reading from the Web site of a watchdog group, the Center for Public Integrity . “Fact. Kerry. ‘Brought to you by the special interests.'”

It’s true that the Center for Public Integrity’s executive director Charles Lewis was quoted in the Post article as saying, “The note of reality is he has been brought to you by special interests.” He was commenting on Kerry’s acceptance of money from lobbyists while denouncing special interests.

But  Lewis has been even more critical of Bush’s campaign funding. At a news conference Jan. 8 to announce release of the book The Buying of the President 2004, for example, Lewis said scandal-plagued Enron Corp. was Bush’s “top career patron,” having donated more than $600,000 to him over the course of his political career.

And last October Lewis released a study that said companies that won federal contracts in Iraq and Afghanistan had contributed more than $500,000 to Bush’s 2000 and 2004 presidential campaigns – more than to any other politician over the last dozen years. “These two wars in two years and their aftermaths have brought out the Beltway Bandit companies in full force, and there is stench of political favoritism and cronyism surrounding the contracting process in both Iraq and Afghanistan,” Lewis said.

Bush campaign officials said their attack ad is a response to months of Kerry ads that have at times said harsh things about President Bush.



Watch Bush-Cheney Video “Unprincipled”



Jim VandeHei, “Kerry Leads in Lobby Money: Anti-Special-Interest Campaign Contrasts With Funding,” Washington Post 31 Jan. 2004: A1.

Bryan Bender, “Rebuilding Iraq; Study Finds Cronyism In Iraq, Afghanistan Contracts Globe Correspondent,” Boston Globe 31 Oct. 2003: A1.