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Imported Car Dealers Group Helping GOP Senate Candidates With AM-Political Rdp Bjt

November 3, 1988

WASHINGTON (AP) _ An import car dealers group is pouring more than $1 million into four Republican Senate races in the final weeks of the campaign, and Democrats complained Thursday that in one case the spending is illegal.

The Auto Dealers and Drivers Free Trade political action committee, based in Jamaica, N.Y., is making heavy independent investments for ads in the re- election bids of Sens. Chic Hecht in Nevada and Malcolm Wallop in Wyoming, and is backing GOP candidates in open seats in Florida and Mississippi, according to documents filed with the Federal Election Commission.

Bob Chlopak, executive director of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, called it the biggest effort by a single group to influence Senate elections since 1980, when NCPAC - the National Conservative Political Action Committee - spent $1 million against six Democratic incumbents.

″Their last-minute communications blitz is sufficient to be decisive,″ Chlopak said at a news conference.

Such interest groups are limited by law to giving $5,000 directly to a candidate in each primary or general election. But there is no ceiling for independent expenditures - those made on a candidate’s behalf without coordination or consultation with the campaign.

The Democratic campaign committee filed a formal complaint with the Federal Election Commission alleging that in the case of Florida, the import dealers’ blitz is not truly independent of the campaign of GOP candidate Connie Mack. The same media buyer and direct-mail consultant used by Mack also is being used by the dealers’ group in other states.

Robert Bauer, a lawyer for the Democratic committee, said such sharing of agents creates a legal presumption that independence has been violated and puts a burden on the dealers to prove they have not engaged in collusion.

The Democrats asked the FEC for expedited consideration of the complaint and asked for an injunction to remove the Florida spots from the air.

The chairman of the import dealers group, Tom Nemet, said the group had adhered to the law and accused the Democrats of attempting to intimidate his organization.

According to reports filed with the Federal Election Commission, the import dealers PAC is spending:

- $382,473 to support Hecht in his effort to defend his seat against Nevada Gov. Richard Bryan. The money is buying a last-minute blitz of television advertising that includes positive spots for Hecht and an attack on Bryan. The group also paid for a 650,000-piece mass mailing for Hecht in the past week.

- $311,550 to boost Rep. Mack, who is locked in a close race with Democratic Rep. Buddy MacKay for the Florida seat of retiring Sen. Lawton Chiles. The money is going for TV spots comparing Mack’s and MacKay’s votes on taxes, and concludes: ″A vote for Connie Mack is a vote for lower taxes.″

- $319,126 in Mississippi to blanket the state with positive spots for Rep. Trent Lott, who is trying to capture the Senate seat of retiring Democratic Sen. John Stennis. Lott is opposed by Democratic Rep. Wayne Dowdy.

- $84,860 to support Wallop’s re-election bid in Wyoming, including positive TV spots that began on Tuesday and a 150,000-piece mass mailing.

The documents also showed spending of $225,000 in Republican Sen. Pete Wilson’s California re-election bid, but Chlopak said he believed most of that media spending had been withdrawn.

Frank Glacken, the PAC’s executive director, said the group also is supporting two House Democratic re-election bids - $45,000 for Rep. Richard Stallings of Idaho and $85,000 for Rep. David Skaggs of Colorado.

The group has made direct contributions to a large number of Democratic Senate incumbents, as well as $15,000 gifts in 1987 and 1988 to the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.

″Primarily we want to go in and support people who are free traders,″ Glacken said in a telephone interview. ″While it looks like we’re spending a lot of money, labor unions give out millions,″ he said. He added that the giving was partly an attempt to balance the money from labor, which he said often advocates protectionist trade legislation.

Glacken said the group receives its money from about 2,000 of the 4,500 people who own foreign car franchises in the United States. He said contributors include both dealers of Japanese and European cars, and he disputed published descriptions of the group as dominated by dealers of Japanese vehicles.

Chlopak dismissed the claims of bipartisanship, saying the spending on behalf of Democrats ″pales by comparison″ with the GOP independent media buy. ″Like NCPAC, their claims of independence invite skepticism and disbelief,″ he said.

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