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Clinton, Dole May Get Big Bills

Federal Election Commission auditors recommended Tuesday that President Clinton repay $7 million in taxpayer assistance that his 1996 campaign received, alleging that both he and Republican challenger Bob Dole illegally benefited from issue ads run by their political parties.

The FEC auditors, whose findings have already prompted a separate Justice Department investigation into the legality of the ads, also recommended that Dole repay $2.9 million.

The recommendation is slated to be reviewed by the six-member commission Thursday. The commission, which has three Democratic and three Republican appointees, can accept, reject, or alter the repayment figures.

The staff auditors said they concluded that both the president and Dole illegally coordinated supposedly independent ads run by their parties during the 1996 campaign. In so doing, the auditors said, they exceeded the spending limits the two candidates agreed to when they accepted taxpayer assistance for the election.

In addition, the FEC recommended that Dole repay another $14.8 million he received during the general election, bringing his total to $17.7 million.

To back up its recommendations, the auditors cited three ads paid for by the Democratic National Committee that were the same as ads aired by the Clinton campaign.

In other cases, the Clinton campaign and DNC shared production expenses and coordinated the broadcast of party and campaign ads so that they didn't run at the same time, auditors said.

The auditors said that 37 DNC ads clearly identified President Clinton and "appeared to contain electioneering messages."

"While it is true that the advertisements in question were run at times and in locations which suggest that the purpose of the advertisements was something other than garnering support for President Clinton, it appears that this is true because of a deliberate effort to conceal the actual purpose and strategy behind the advertisements."

By Jonathan Salant