The ad by the conservative interest group Club for Growth, which is to begin airing Wednesday, compares Reagan's battle against communism with Mr. Bush's war on terror, showing footage of Reagan at the Berlin Wall and Mr. Bush at Ground Zero. It also claims that Kerry was "wrong then, wrong now" on national security.
Reagan family spokeswoman Joanne Drake said Tuesday that permission is needed for anyone to use Reagan's likeness in an ad because doing so implies that he endorsed one candidate over another.
"No one has requested the permission to use his image in an ad, nor would we feel it appropriate to give such permission at this juncture," Drake said. "We protect his image very carefully, particularly as it relates to politics."
Kerry campaign spokesman Chad Clanton also criticized the ad. "It's pretty sad that less than a week after America said farewell to President Reagan, George W. Bush's supporters are politicizing it," Clanton said.
Reagan died June 5 after a 10-year struggle with Alzheimer's disease. He was 93. The nation ended a week of mourning last Friday with a national funeral in Washington and his burial at his presidential library in California.
Club for Growth president Steve Moore defended the ad's timing, saying it was intentional because the public had been reminded for days about "Reagan's philosophy of peace through strength."
"We wanted to draw on how similar Bush and Reagan have been in terms of fighting evil," Moore said.
He said the group wrote a letter to Reagan's widow, Nancy, informing her of the ad.
The ad shows Kerry, a Vietnam veteran, testifying to Congress in 1971 that "we cannot fight communism all over the world and I think we should have learned that lesson by now."
Former President Reagan is then seen at the Berlin Wall in 1987, saying "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall." That's followed by Mr. Bush telling rescue workers at the World Trade Center after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks: "I can hear you, the rest of the world hears you, and the people who knocked these buildings down will hear all of us soon."
The Club for Growth will spend $500,000 over a week, a moderate amount, to run the ad on national cable networks and in media markets in the contested states of Michigan, Ohio and Wisconsin.