WASHINGTON (AP) _ The Federal Election Commission is investigating whether the Republican National Committee illegally coordinated supposedly independent ``issues advocacy'' television spots with Bob Dole's 1996 presidential campaign.

The FEC has subpoenaed Republican media strategist Don Sipple for information about ads by New Century Media, a consulting firm Sipple set up to produce ads for the RNC, Dole, and the 1996 Republican National Convention.

The RNC ads were paid for with ``soft money,'' unlimited political contributions that cannot be used to advocate the election or defeat of a specific candidate.

FEC spokesman Ian Stirton said Monday he could not comment on investigative matters and Sipple's attorney, Ben Ginsberg, declined comment.

However, a senior Republican who spoke on condition of anonymity confirmed the existence of the FEC probe, which was first reported Monday in the Capitol Hill newspaper Roll Call.

The allegations arose last year during Senate hearings into campaign finance irregularities.

Documents released during the hearings chaired by Sen. Fred Thompson, R-Tenn., indicated the RNC cleared advertising budgets and the content of at least one ad with the Dole campaign.

Clinton's ad team of Squier, Knapp & Ochs also produced spots for the Democratic National Committee, and Clinton was criticized during those Senate hearings for allegedly helping to edit some DNC spots.

Asked about the probe, Dole said through a spokeswoman that he stands by a statement he made to Thompson's committee: ``Unlike the president, I did not direct and control the ads produced by the Republican National Committee.''