Who Made The Sleaziest Ad?

The ad produced by the Republican National Committee against Harold Fordin Tennessee may be the sleaziest of the season. That's hard to say definitively, because we've got more than a week to go and desperate candidates will do desperate things to get elected.

But here's the thing. Negative, attack ads like that used to be produced by "shadowy outside groups" and took days to track down who actually made the ad and who paid for it.

Well, it ain't so hard anymore. We know who did that ad…they told us right at the end of it – The Republican National Committee. That's right. Despite all the brouhaha over campaign reform—and getting rid of those independent groups that finance so many sleazy ads—the sleazy ads are now financed by a new source: THE POLITICAL PARTIES THEMSELVES.

It's an easy way to put on negative ads and give the national parties and the candidates deniability. Here's how it works.

You create an independent expenditure subsidiary of the national party and erect a wall between it and the rest of the committee. And you tell people that the RNC doesn't have any idea what the independent expenditure subsidiary is doing because it is not allowed to know by law. Same applies to the Democrats. And to all official party committees, like the ones that deal specifically with campaigns for the House or the Senate. And it's all perfectly legal. In fact, the Supreme Court upheld this practice.

The ads are funded by the committees. But technically, they don't have any say or know anything about them or where and when they're playing. Hmmm. Do you believe that?

That's exactly what Ken Mehlman, Chairman of the Republican National Committee said when confronted about the anti-Ford ad that credited his committee with its content and production. Howard Dean would tell you the same thing if confronted about some of the many ads the DNC produces through its independent expenditure apparatus.

The RNC and DNC get away with this because they can. They'll fund all the negative ads and happily so. So, the good news is that you don't need shadowy groups anymore. The bad news is that now they're officially part of the system…and apparently untouchable and unaccountable.