The end of the 2004 presidential election campaign doesn't spell the end of Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, the well-funded alliance of former servicemen that remains dedicated...
WASHINGTON The end of the 2004 presidential election campaign doesn’t spell the end of Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, the well-funded alliance of former servicemen that remains dedicated to preventing John Kerry from becoming president.
The group, which recently changed its name to Swift Boat Veterans and POWs for Truth, plans to convene next month to celebrate its successes and to consider speaking out further about Kerry’s military service, his anti-war activities afterward, and other issues, says William Franke, who ran the organization’s day-to-day operations.
In his first interview about his role in the anti-Kerry group, the Navy veteran said his group succeeded in its mission to discredit Kerry and may help distribute a controversial film attacking the Massachusetts senator.
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Kerry has given no indication that he might seek the Democratic nomination in 2008 and probably would encounter resistance from many in his party if he did.
Nonetheless, Franke made clear that his disdain for Kerry had not abated and that his group was keeping a wary eye on the senator’s activities.
Franke, 60, offered no new evidence for his claims that Kerry misstated facts about his Vietnam service. But he said the Swift boat group’s members remained frustrated, feeling that the news media did not bore in sufficiently on what he regards as unanswered questions about Kerry’s service records.
He added that he was troubled by a political dust-up in Kerry’s home state recently that may have cost the group’s public-relations firm, Virginia-based Creative Response Concepts, a contract with the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority.
“They have called us rag merchants and liars and scum and every name under the sun. But what he has never done is respond substantively to our accusations,” Franke said. He said the group might issue more “statements” about Kerry, but he wasn’t specific.
Kerry spokesman David Wade repeated assertions from the campaign that Kerry made all his military records public except for private medical records, and that even those had been viewed by a group of reporters last spring.
“This was a smear campaign led by right-wing Republicans who were willing to lie because they hated John Kerry for having spoken out against the war in Vietnam after he came home,” Wade said, responding to questions in an e-mail.
“There’s a reason why Franke stayed in a secure, undisclosed location during the campaign: This man had no respect for the truth. … History already has discredited Bill Franke and his right-wing crusade. His 15 minutes of fame are over,” Wade said.
The ability of Swift Boat Veterans for Truth and other “527s” to operate as they did this year probably will depend on Congress. The 527s, so named for the tax-code provision that governs them, emerged as a force this election as a result of what critics regard as a loophole in the recent campaign-finance law.
One of the legislation’s main sponsors, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., has vowed further efforts to rein the groups in.
Swift Boat Veterans for Truth raised $27.2 million, most of it in a three-month period starting in July, Franke said. Houston home builder Robert Perry, a longtime GOP contributor, gave the group $4 million.
That money fueled some of the campaign season’s most aggressive and memorable television ads.
One of the ads featured Navy Swift boat veterans asserting that Kerry lied about his Vietnam service. Another recalled his testimony in 1971 in front of a Senate committee, in which Kerry related allegations of atrocities by American forces in Vietnam. The Swift boat group painted that testimony as a betrayal.
The ads contributed to the broader Republican strategy of portraying Kerry as an unfit leader in time of war and drew wide attention, stalling Kerry’s campaign at a critical point in August and generating criticism that the senator did not respond sufficiently to blunt the attack.
In one measure of success, a poll in 12 closely contested states taken on election night by a Republican polling firm found that the Swift boat veterans’ ads were far more recognizable and had more effect than ads of pro-Kerry groups.
“Most people, even Democrats, grudgingly acknowledge that those ads were hugely effective,” said Charles Lewis, executive director of the Center for Public Integrity.
Franke referred to his group as “a substantive organization” and said it had a 150,000-strong donor list. He said it would be considering proposals related to veterans issues when members convene Jan. 26 in Orlando, Fla., for two days.
Franke said the group might assist in distribution of the film “Stolen Honor: Wounds that Never Heal,” which is harshly critical of Kerry’s testimony in front of the Senate.
A report that the Sinclair Broadcast Group planned to air the documentary on all or most of its 62 television stations just before the election provoked a storm of controversy that sent Sinclair’s stock plummeting.
Sinclair ultimately backed down and aired a generally balanced report with the title, “POW Story: Politics, Pressure and the Media.”