WASHINGTON -- The Bush-Quayle campaign has filed a complaint with the Federal Election Commission against Floyd Brown, the hard-ball political ad man who has gone from being seen as asset to a liability.
President Bush ordered the action Tuesday after reading the transcript of a CBS News report Monday night that revealed Brown tried to sabotage Democrat Bill Clinton's campaign by exploiting the suicide of a young woman.
According to CBS and the family of the woman, identified as Susan Coleman, Brown brazenly attempted to substantiate a bogus story that the woman had an affair with Clinton 15 years ago and killed herself when the romance ended.
'As the president has said, Floyd Brown's activities are despicable and have no place in the American political system,' press secretary Marlin Fitzwater said in announcing the FEC complaint.
'With today's action, we are moving closer to the goal of stopping Floyd Brown and his associates from their activities,' Fitzwater said.
Brown heads the Presidential Victory Committee, an independent group that backs Bush. Four years ago, he helped Bush win his first term by creating the 'Willie Horton' ad that showed Democrat Michael Dukakis as soft on crime.
'I'm not going to do anything different,' Brown said in a telephone interview late Tuesday. 'We're not doing anything illegal. If I followed orders from George Bush and stopped, that'd be a violation. We're independent.'
Fitzwater said the White House has evidence that Brown 'is misleading contributors into believing he's affiliated with our re- election campaign.'
Brown denied it but noted he solicits funds on behalf of 'Citizens for Bush.'
'We will do everything we can within the law to see to that this man doesn't use my name in raising funds,' Bush told reporters in San Diego during a joint news conference with Mexican President Carlos Salinas de Gortari.
Bush conceded, however, 'The law is fairly complicated on this.'
Fitzwater said the Bush-Quayle campaign has tried repeatedly in the past year to distance itself from Brown, in statements to the news media as well as in letters to Brown and to its own contributors.
In 1988, the Bush-Quayle campaign didn't try particularly hard, if at all, to silence Brown.
Although critics called the Wille Horton ads racist, Bush simply insisted his campaign had nothing to do with it. But he clearly reaped benefits from the spot, which seemed to define his campaign.
Now, though, Bush maintains publicly that he wants to 'stay out of the sleaze business,' and fears Brown's tactics may backfire against him.
Last week, he called on Brown not to air a new TV ad that raises questions about Clinton's character, and invites viewers to call an 800- telephone number to listen to purported conservations between Clinton and Gennifer Flowers, who claims to have had an affair with the Arkansas governor.
Earlier Tuesday, Clinton suggested that the Bush-Quayle campaign match its words with actions and file a complaint with the FEC.
'While the Bush administration had disclaimed any connection with it (the Brown committee), they decline to do the one thing that would shut it up, which is to file a complaint with the FEC,' Clinton said.
'This guy is raising money under the guise of trying to elect George Bush,' Clinton told reporters at the Democratic National Convention in New York City.
An undaunted Brown said he would begin airing the Gennifer Flowers hotline within 24 hours. Flowers had obtained a temporary restraining order against the ad, but it was lifted Tuesday by a federal judge in Dallas, Brown said.
He said his committee, like a lot of news organization, investigated rumors that Susan Coleman had committed suicide over Clinton and dismissed the allegations as untrue two months ago.
'Unlike CBS, we think its irresponsible to air those charges,' he said.
According to CBS, Brown's Presidential Victory Committee has been in search of what the network described as 'dirty tricks' to undermine Clinton's candidacy.
The network said the committee seized an anonymous letter mass mailed to news organizations alleging that Susan Coleman's 1977 suicidefollowed a love affair with her law professor, Bill Clinton, that left her pregnant.
CBS said Coleman's family maintained there was no truth to this, and said reporters who had investigated the letter found it to be a nasty hoax.
Despite findings the letter was a hoax, Brown hired private detectives to try to substantiate the story, and hounded the Coleman family with unwanted telephone calls and visits, CBS said. Family members said they felt harassed.
The network said Coleman's sister, who it did not identify by name at the request of the woman, taped a telephone conservation she had with Brown, who quickly asked her about the gruesome details of her sister's death.
Brown: 'Was she depressed. You won't even answer if she was depressed?'
Sister: 'Because I ....'
Brown: 'Was she suicidal?'
Sister: 'Just leave my family alone.'
Brown: 'If there is any truth to this proposed story, I want to be very private. I want to basically have my lawyers approach Clinton's lawyers and tell him that we want him out of the race, because he's not morally qualified to be president.'
The sister, in an interview with CBS, said, 'To think that they have the right to just foster this type of grief on a family and then dredge up something like this....'
CBS correspondent Eric Engberg said on the air, 'When we confronted Floyd Brown he asserted a special right to track down sleaze and use it to blackmail candidates.'
Brown was shown telling Engberg, 'If a man is involved in that (an extramarital affair), he should not be president.'