COLUMBUS, Ohio – With leading Republicans saying outside group-sponsored ads attacking John Kerry’s service in Vietnam and his later opposition to the war have weakened the Democratic candidate, President Bush’s campaign filed a federal lawsuit Wednesday contending such groups should be shut down.

The lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court in Washington as Bush headed to the Republican National Convention in New York after a campaign stop in Ohio. The president’s campaign lawyers said organizations known as 527 groups should be reined in. The 527 term comes from a section of the federal tax code that allows organizations to receive and spend unlimited and unregulated donations, known as “soft money.”

“To prevent these 527s from continuing to violate federal election law, we have asked the federal court to step in and order the FEC (Federal Election Commission) to act,” Tom Josefiak, general counsel to Bush’s campaign, said in a statement.

Josefiak said the lawsuit was a response to the FEC’s failure to rule on a complaint filed five months ago by the president’s campaign.

, asking that the groups be banned or face limits on donations similar to regulated political action committees.

David Wade, a spokesman for Kerry, called the lawsuit “a smokescreen and pathetic diversionary tactic.”

The work of the 527 groups has become one of the most hotly debated aspects of the presidential campaign season.

One such group, the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, has drawn the ire of Kerry and Democrats for running ads criticizing the candidate’s military service and his anti-Vietnam activism when he returned home.

The group’s advertising, though limited to a few battleground states, has received lots of media attention. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., has urged Bush to condemn ads questioning the service of Kerry, a decorated veteran.

“There’s no doubt the swift-boat things have had an effect,” McCain said of Kerry’s campaign. “I just wish we worried about the war in Iraq (rather) than one that was over 30 years ago.”

Earlier this week, members of the group offered to withdraw the ads if Kerry made public a variety of wartime records and if he apologized to veterans for alleging that atrocities were widespread in Vietnam.

The Kerry campaign has alleged that the Bush campaign has illegally worked with the swift boat group. Such coordination by a campaign and 527 group would be illegal under its tax status.

The Bush campaign has denied any illegal coordination, but the president has refused to denounce the swift boat ads’ content. Instead, he has urged Kerry to join him in seeking an end to 527 groups.

But Democratic-aligned 527s have proved to be an important money supplement to Kerry’s campaign, particularly because it is now limited to spending public funds for the remainder of the fall election season.

Three of the largest 527 groups are Democratic-linked – The Media Fund, America Coming Together and Internal Revenue Service reports compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics show the three groups have spent at least $68 million, largely to benefit Democrats and Kerry while often attacking Bush.

(c) 2004, Chicago Tribune.

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Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

AP-NY-09-01-04 1947EDT

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