Washington Two former Vietnam prisoners of war who appear in ads attacking Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry were appointed by the Bush administration to a panel advising the Department of Veterans Affairs.
The former POWs in the ad, Kenneth Cordier and Paul Galanti, serve on the VA's 12-member Former POW Advisory Committee. VA Secretary Anthony Principi appointed Cordier in 2002 and Galanti in 2003.
Cordier said the VA panel had nothing to do with the Bush campaign or the anti-Kerry group. "It's totally apolitical, and we meet twice a year to bring to the secretary's attention problems from around the country in VA hospitals," he said.
Cordier and Galanti appear in an anti-Kerry ad saying their Vietnamese captors used news of anti-war protests, such as ones Kerry organized, to taunt the prisoners. Cordier also was a member of a Bush campaign veterans' committee but quit earlier this month after that role was revealed.
VA spokesman Phil Budahn said Principi did not know about or encourage the veterans' appearance in the anti-Kerry ad. Budahn said federal regulations bar advisory committee members from engaging in political activity while performing their committee duties, but there are no other restrictions on their activities when not working on committee business.
Kerry has labeled the group running the ads, Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, a front for the Bush campaign. Kerry's campaign complained to the Federal Election Commission that the veterans' group was illegally coordinating its attacks with the Bush campaign.
More than $100,000 of the group's initial funding came from Houston-area homebuilder Bob J. Perry, a longtime donor to Bush and other Texas Republicans. A Bush campaign lawyer also advised the Swift boat group and was dropped from the campaign staff after his role became public.
Bush and his campaign have denied any coordination with Swift Boat Veterans for Truth.
Cordier said he got involved with the group because of his continuing outrage over anti-Vietnam war activists like Kerry. He said he got in touch with one of its leaders, John O'Neill, who later commanded the same Swift boat Kerry had overseen.
Cordier said he doesn't remember his Vietnamese captors specifically mentioning Kerry but he did remember them playing a tape of an address by anti-war activist Jane Fonda.
Cordier and Galanti are longtime friends and prominent former Vietnam POWs with long-standing Republican ties. Cordier said he suggested Galanti contact O'Neill.
Galanti coordinated Arizona Sen. John McCain's presidential campaign in Virginia four years ago and was a member of the same VA advisory panel when Bush's father was president. Cordier gave $2,000 to Texas Republicans in 2000 and 2001.
The anti-Kerry group's ads have accused Kerry of lying to get some of the five medals he won as a Swift boat commander in Vietnam.