Clearing the air

The motive behind a series of Bush attack ads may have been business, not politics

But on a Saturday afternoon in late February, while the Wylys and their advisors Allyn and Hensarling were encamped in a television-recording studio, the Dallas billionaire and his son didn't seem concerned about the criticism the ad would spark. Indeed, Allyn says, they seemed to welcome it.

At that point -- one week before the ads would start airing -- there were two proposed versions of the commercials. One mentioned only Bush's record in a positive light. Allyn had worked much of the previous night scripting it. The other proposed ad hammered McCain for his vote against funding for solar energy.

It was Andrew who performed a late-night search on the Internet and discovered McCain had cast that fateful vote. "It was a good contrast," Andrew says. "You have a senator who voted one way and a governor who acted another."

For Allyn and Hensarling, the proposed negative focus on McCain seemed fraught with risks. "We started building the positive ads," recalls Allyn. But, he says, "The Wylys were very determined...They wanted a contrast ad." Allyn recalls the 65-year-old Wyly saying something to the effect that "if you can't make them see the light, then make them feel the heat."

For now, the Wylys don't plan to re-enter the presidential race with any more issue advertising, Hensarling says. But they are considering their options for congressional races, possibly with commercials that help Republican candidates with good records on the environment. Andrew says he and his dad are thinking of ways to build up a membership and financial base for the newly formed Republicans for Clean Air. "We haven't taken any serious action yet," he says.

Allyn believes that the ads, despite his fretting to the contrary, possibly helped Bush. For certain, Allyn knows the ads bought the Wylys and GreenMountain.Com tremendous attention. For the first time, the company was profiled in The New York Times.

"This succeeded beyond their wildest dreams," he says.

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