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01/27/98- Updated 11:49 PM ET

Dole says illegal ads cost him presidency

WASHINGTON - Bob Dole, calling a 1996 Democratic ad blitz illegal and saying it doomed his 1996 presidential bid, says he favors banning "soft money" donations to political parties by unions, corporations and individuals.

Although such "issues ads" were supposed to promote Democratic Party ideas rather than President Clinton's candidacy, "this sustained barrage of advertising... was instrumental in shaping positive public opinion about the president and negative public opinion about me," Dole said in a statement to the Senate panel that investigated 1996 fund raising.

Last fall, Dole challenged Clinton to testify at the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee's hearings to answer allegations of campaign abuses.

Dole offered to testify as well if Clinton accepted the challenge, which was rejected by the White House. The written statement by the former Senate Republican leader was offered as prepared testimony if he had been called by the committee, chaired by Sen. Fred Thompson, R-Tenn.

Quoting from the memoirs of Clinton's former political adviser, Dick Morris, Dole said Clinton personally oversaw the production and placement of the ads.

"Controlling legal authority does not permit a presidential candidate to direct and control a national party's ad campaign with the intent to advance his or her own prospects for election," Dole said in the statement, which was obtained from a Senate aide.

Dole also said he favored a five-year phase-out of "soft-money" donated by corporations, unions and others to political parties. Before the ban takes effect, Dole said there should be a "reasonable cap" on the amount of those donations the two national political parties may legally accept.

Soft money is supposed to be used to promote party-building and voter education, rather than a candidate. Unlike the $1,000 limits for individual donations to candidates, there are no caps on the amounts of soft money that can be given to parties.

"We are pleased that Sen. Dole has joined us in urging a soft-money ban and hope he'll convinced his Republican leaders who have refused the DNC's offer over and over" to voluntarily refrain from accepting such donations, said DNC spokesman Steve Langdon.

During the 1996 election cycle, the RNC raised $138 million in soft money and the DNC raised $123 million. The Senate investigation developed ample evidence that both parties used the money to promote their presidential candidates.

Dole offered a number of prescriptions for campaign-finance reform, including a proposal to require labor unions to get their members' permission before spending dues for political purposes. He also proposed withholding federal matching funds for presidential candidates - such as Clinton - who did not face primary challenges.

But Dole focused much of his attention on the Democrats' ad campaign that began in late 1995. Clinton himself told donors that the party-financed ads enabled him to save campaign money, according to a White House videotape turned over to the Senate panel.

"History will show that, because of the ad campaign, the election - for all practical purposes - was decided ...(in) ... early 1996 long before Republicans had a nominee," Dole said.

Dole denied Democratic assertions that the Republican National Committee's advertisements violated the same campaign spending laws because they promoted his candidacy.

"Unlike the president, I did not direct and control the ads produced by the Republican National Committee nor did I coordinate with RNC officials to ensure that the ads provided maximum benefit to my campaign," Dole said.

That was challenged by Langdon. "For Sen. Dole to assert that he was not in control of ads that told his own life story is absurd," Langdon said, referring to an RNC-paid spot that was a brief biographical sketch of the candidate.

In a June 6, 1996, ABC-TV interview, Dole argued the ad was legal because "it doesn't say 'Bob Dole for president."'

"It never says that I'm running for president, though I hope that it's fairly obvious, since I'm the only one in the picture."

By The Associated Press

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