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Washington Wrap

Dotty Lynch, Douglas Kiker, Beth Lester and Clothilde Ewing of the CBS News Political Unit have the latest from the nation's capital.

527 Or Bust: The online liberal political juggernaut announced Wednesday the release of its second television advertisement, a spot that "highlights the $87 billion dollars we are spending in Iraq" according to founder Wes Boyd. The $2 million ad buy will start Thursday in five "battleground" states: Ohio, Missouri, West Virginia, Florida and Nevada.

The goal of the ad, Boyd told reporters in a conference call on Wednesday, is to "inoculate the public against the distortions to come." The ad was tested in Charleston, WV and Youngstown, Ohio by Democratic pollster Stan Greenberg who said it moved voters away from Bush and toward the Democrats.

The ad will be paid for by the Voter Fund, which is a 527 organization. 527s, named after their place in the IRS code, are groups that can raise and spend unlimited amounts of money as long as they do not expressly advocate the election or defeat of a federal candidate.'s decision to create and use a 527 is one example of the many current Democratic attempts to raise money in the post-McCain-Feingold era.

Last night in Los Angeles, another example of 527s' appeal to Democrats came in the form of a star-studded fundraiser for America Coming Together, a 527 founded by former Clinton staffer Harold Ickes, Ellen Malcolm of EMILY's List and grassroots union organizer Steve Rosenthal. The fundraiser, which ACT consultant Loraine Voles told CBS News aimed to elevate the group's profile, brought in money for Ickes' Media Fund, a project that hopes to raise $80 million "to fund an independent advertising campaign for the eventual Democratic presidential nominee" the Los Angeles Times reports. In combination with's new ad, it appears Democratic 527s from coast to coast are going on the offensive to attack President Bush.

Critics of 527s say the groups merely replace "soft money" as a corrupting influence in politics. As Bill Allison, managing editor of the Center for Public Integrity told the LA Times, "A lot of it's being done - surprise, surprise - to benefit some candidates and attack others in the same way a lot of the parties used soft money." Republicans are also crying foul: according to an RNC press release, "after battling with all their might for the soft-money ban that is included in the McCain-Feingold bill," Democrats' 527s are relegating campaign finance reform "to the dustbin."

Back on the MoveOn.trail, Boyd says that this ad buy will be the first of many. With matching funds from billionaire financier George Soros and Peter Lewis (who also gave $10 million apiece to ACT), the Democratic wing of the 527 world does not seem likely to get reformist any time soon.

Good News or Bad News First: Good news for the Iowa Dean campaign: A Zogby poll of 500 voters conducted Dec. 1 and 2 showed Howard Dean had retaken the lead in a neck-and-neck race in Iowa. Dean came in first with 26 percent, trailed by Dick Gephardt in second with 22 percent. John Kerry and Edwards were both in single digits, with Kerry at 9 percent and Edwards at 5 percent.

As for the bad news, it looks like Dean might have to reconsider his decision to seal some of his official papers for a decade. Plagued by criticism since the summer over why he sealed his records for four years longer than his immediate predecessors, Dean said he is now considering unsealing some of his records, according to the New York Times. But apparently not all of them: "We think that transparency is important. But executive privilege is a serious issue, and there are private things in there that can't be let out," Dean said.

Dean, who admits that his Achilles' heel is his tendency to reflect "rather later than sooner," may have himself to blame for the story coming back to headlines again. Apparently unaware of the fact that most of President Bush's records as Texas governor are available to the public, Dean challenged Bush in a television interview, saying "I'll unseal mine if he will unseal all of his."

While in Dean's backyard in Essex Junction, Vermont on Tuesday, RNC chairman Ed Gillespie explained to the GOP fall dinner that he was sure that "when Dr. Dean learns that President Bush's public papers as governor are now unsealed, he will be good to his word and unseal the papers of his governorship, as well," because "your former governor would never say one thing and do another," according to the NYT.

Shortly before leaving office in January, Dean explained the 10-year seal on Vermont Radio saying: "Well, there are future political considerations. We didn't want anything embarrassing appearing in the papers at a critical time in any future endeavor." On Tuesday, he tried to clear up the comment saying he wasn't really being very serious.

Stay tuned.

Is That A Smile, Andy? President Bush's Baghdad sojourn seems to have worked perfectly in one regard: his poll numbers jumped across the board in the days following the secret trip, the National Annenberg Election Survey has found.

The poll, conducted before and after the president's trip, found "substantial immediate" improvement in Mr. Bush's job approval (up from 56 percent to 61 percent), disapproval (down from 41 percent to 36 percent) and likability (up from 65 percent to 72 percent).

One number that did not jump was the percentage of Americans who think the war against Iraq was worth it. The president's trip moved that number just one point, from 48 percent to 49 percent.

Former New York Times reporter Adam Clymer, who runs the survey, told the Washington Times he cannot prove the Baghdad trip moved the numbers, but he said the economy and Iraq are the biggest factors in polls about the president and that the trip was an important move for Mr. Bush.

In other Republican news, House Majority Leader Tom DeLay has scrapped plans to use a docked cruise ship to house 2,200 guests (read: donors) during the Republican National Convention in New York next August. The plan had brought criticism from Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Gov. George Pataki, both Republicans, as well as unions and other city leaders. Critics said DeLay's plan would have taken $3 million from the city.

DeLay's spokesman Stuart Roy tells the AP: "Where we hold events for the Republican convention is not something he cares about; it's not worth spending energy on."

The AP reports that DeLay had argued that the Norwegian Cruise Line ship, which would have been docked on the Hudson River just a few blocks from Madison Square Garden where the convention is taking place, would have provided increased privacy and security for lobbyists, VIPs and members of Congress who stayed onboard.

Kerry's Jobs Program: Democrats keep stressing jobs, jobs and jobs. In a speech Wednesday to the Council on Foreign Relations, John Kerry says he'd consider hiring Bill Clinton, Jim Baker or Jimmy Carter as a Presidential Ambassador of Peace to the Middle East, who would report directly to him as well as to the secretary of state.

In a background paper, the Kerry campaign said the Massachusetts senator would outline "the steps he would take to reverse the damage to U.S. security and leadership caused by President Bush's flawed policies of unilateralism and preemptive war. Kerry recognizes that a global security effort and the war against terrorism require the active participation of the international community."

Kerry attacks the president for alienating U.S. allies and says he will go to the United Nations and travel abroad during his first 100 days to "affirm America's role in the world."

This is a big policy day for other Democratic candidates, too. Joe Lieberman is in New Hampshire proposing an expansion of the Family and Medical Leave Act to include paid leave for workers to take care of themselves or family members; it would be financed by a payroll deduction. John Edwards is in Iowa to unveil a sweeping proposal to reform lobbying laws. And Wesley Clark will call for universal access to pre-school in a speech in New Hampshire.

Quote of the Day: "Did you just quit the campaign right then?" -- Jay Leno to Dick Gephardt, who said he was recently approached in a Texas airport by a man who thought he was his insurance agent and by women in St. Louis who thought he was either a CNN weatherman or Dan Quayle. (The Tonight Show)

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