Today’s Must Read

The “Swift Boaters” from 2004 are back at it.

A group of top Republican contributors who financially fueled the famous “Swift Boat” campaign ads that helped sink Sen. John Kerry’s presidential campaign back in 2004 are starting to regroup.

A story in today’s Wall Street Journal reports on new Republican efforts to circumvent the landmark campaign finance laws named after their top candidate — the McCain-Feingold Act of 2002.

The GOP is raising tons of cash for the Republican Governors Association, which is a so-called 527 group and permits donors to exceed the $2,300 individual cap that applies to presidential campaigns. Although these groups are barred from soliciting money for presidential candidates, the association is telling prospective contributors that money for the association will ultimately help out McCain at the top of the ticket.

Of course the association’s fund is getting cash from big corporations like Pfizer, Bank of America Corp. and Travelers, which have given $150,000 or more. But that’s not the main target of this fundraising effort.

Rather, the pitch is aimed at individuals, including many top contributors to the controversial Swift Boat group that targeted Sen. Kerry. Texas developer Bob Perry, the largest financial backer of the Swift Boat group, also is the largest individual donor to the governors group, at $250,000. Carl Lindner, a retired insurance executive in Ohio and another top Swift Boat financier, has contributed $100,000 to the governors’ fund. The campaign-finance lawyer for the Swift Boat group in 2004 now serves the same role for the governors association. The McCain campaign and the individual contributors all declined to comment on their involvement.

Yet the whole situation is dubiously legal. In 2005 the Federal Election Commission banned such groups from soliciting donations by pledging help to a federal candidate. Even the McCain camp questions the pitch tactics.

“If it is in fact telling its donors their money will help elect McCain they are being inaccurate,” said McCain spokesman Brian Rogers, told the Journal, noting the group cannot legally attempt to sway a federal race. But he said that because he had not yet seen evidence the group is campaigning on Sen. McCain’s behalf, “It’s not an issue.”

We’ll have to wait and see what kind of ads the association actually runs. But so far, they’ve seen a big uptick in donations, raking in $14 million during the first half of this year, compared to $3 million for the Democratic governors’ group.

The governor’s association is unique among the so-called 527 groups. Like its Democratic counterpart, it is the only 527 set up by the national party.

The McCain camp is also trying out some other tactics to get around McCain’s 2002 law and rake in more money to match Sen. Barack Obama’s massive money machine, according to the Journal.

They’re leveraging a technique that establishes a joint fund-raising account allowing donors write checks for up to $70,100. The campaign pulled in $3 million for the fund in a matter of days in June.