October 7th, 2008
11:58 AM ET
6 years ago

Ad spending by independent groups rises in race’s homestretch

Ad spending by independent groups has risen the closer we get to November 4th.
Ad spending by independent groups has risen the closer we get to November 4th.

NASHVILLE, Tennessee (CNN) – Pundits may have spent the year declaring the passing of the 527 era - but the view from primary states this month is beginning to make the reports of that death look just a bit premature.

Insomniacs and second-shift workers tuning into Pittsburgh’s WTAE early Saturday morning saw a two-minute commercial claiming that Barack Obama “arrogantly mocked” the Bible in a 2006 speech on religion.

In a recent ad for the California Nurses Association that aired in battleground states, an image of 72-year-old John McCain flashed on the screen as a woman sang “One Heartbeat Away” – a not so subtle dig at the Republican presidential nominee’s age. The goal was to put doubt into voters’ minds about Sarah Palin’s ability to step in as commander-in-chief if something were to happen to McCain.

Veterans for Freedom has begun a multi-million dollar ad campaign against Barack Obama that accuse the Democratic nominee of caring more about his campaign than about troops in Iraq and Afghanistan.

And BornAliveTruth.org, an anti-abortion group, is taking aim at Barack Obama with a television ad featuring a 31-year-old woman whose mother underwent a late-term abortion procedure unsuccessfully: if "Obama had his way, I wouldn't be here," says Gianna Jessen in the new spot.

For the most part, these independent groups, many of which are called 527’s for their designation in the IRS tax code, had been relatively minor players during the 2008 presidential election season, as ambitious attempts to organize major donors mostly foundered due to a lack of interest.

At this time four years ago, independent groups had spent $120 million on commercials for the presidential race compared to the $13.2 million invested so far in this race, according to an analysis of political television ad spending conducted for CNN by TNSMI-Campaign Media Analysis Group.


So far this election cycle, spending by anti-Obama and anti-McCain groups is dead even with each totaling $6.6 million so far this election cycle. In the last two weeks, Republican issue groups have spent $2.3 million, while Democratic issue groups have accounted for about $1 million.

But there has been a recent uptick in the frequency of third-party funded ads, said Evan Tracey, CNN’s consultant on television advertising. MoveOn.org and the Service Employees International Union, which support Obama, announced major new ad campaigns last month. So did the anti-Obama conservative American Issues Project. And the pace is picking up: Six new groups have unveiled ads since Friday.

“What we have seen over the past five days is indicative of what we are going to see a lot of in the next four weeks,” said Tracey, chief operating officer of Campaign Media Analysis Group.

The strategy for many of these independent organizations is to make an impression with deep-pocketed donors who can help fund the ad and take it to a new level.

In fact, PHForAmerica asks viewers to “help air this ad on TV as often as possible” by making a donation to the organization.

“Even though an ad buy might be small now, remember these groups are auditioning right now for late donations to take these ads to a larger scope,” Tracey said. “Remember, the Swift Boat original ad buy was less than $1 million and ran in only a handful of small media markets.”

PHForAmerica’s ad first appeared as a Web video on YouTube, and drew a sharp response from the Obama campaign, which said it was “full of outright lies” and predicted the ad would never see air. Even though the ad had low production quality, it did run at 1:24 a.m. ET - and the head of the group said it will continue to do so, if only for now in the wee hours of the morning.

In the Wild, Wild West of political ads, accuracy is not always important and with 28 days remaining before Election Day – expect more independent groups like PHForAmerica to take to the airwaves. The mission: act as a disrupter, try to knock an opponent off-stride and in many cases call into question a candidate’s character, his patriotism - even his health and mental status.

In one 30-second ad from Brave New PAC and Democracy for America released in mid-September, McCain's fellow prisoner of war Philip Butler described the Republican nominee as "unfit to lead" - making the spot one of the first to mention McCain's POW stint in a negative context.

Last week, the conservative group Judicial Confirmation Network launched a TV ad that featured Barack Obama's ties to the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, the controversial pastor who nearly derailed the Illinois senator's presidential bid last spring, and tied Obama to William Ayers and convicted developer Tony Rezko – tough attacks which have become central elements of the McCain-Palin message against Obama in recent days.

None of these groups are allowed to communicate or coordinate with the campaigns in any way because of federal campaign finance regulations.

Both Obama and McCain were highly critical of independent expenditure groups during their respective primary contests, but the candidates have refrained from condemning the wave of new ads.

And as the 2008 campaign heads into the homestretch, and the focus shifts to turning out the base, these independent groups will likely pour millions more into last-minute ad buys. “These are going to have highly inflammatory rhetoric that is going to be steered at base voters in swing states,” said Tracey. “They want to fire up the single issue voters.”


Filed under: Candidate Barack Obama • John McCain
soundoff (206 Responses)
  1. James

    Get your paddles out, here come the Swift Boats.

    October 7, 2008 03:05 pm at 3:05 pm |
  2. Billy

    "Palin's routine attacks on the media have begun to spill into ugliness. In Clearwater, arriving reporters were greeted with shouts and taunts by the crowd of about 3,000. Palin then went on to blame Katie Couric's questions for her 'less-than-successful interview with kinda mainstream media.' At that, Palin supporters turned on reporters in the press area, waving thunder sticks and shouting abuse. Others hurled obscenities at a camera crew. One Palin supporter shouted a racial epithet at an African American sound man for a network and told him, 'Sit down, boy.' "
    Another crowd member, upon mention of Obama's ties to Bill Ayers: "Kill him!"

    DISGUSTING!

    Sarah Palin = David Duke

    October 7, 2008 03:07 pm at 3:07 pm |
  3. MN

    These people (from both sides) need to get lives. There are so many better things that these millions of dollars could be spent on (help for hunger, poverty, etc) rather than spreading lies and bashing others.

    It sounds to me like these folks need to re-examine their priorities.

    October 7, 2008 03:07 pm at 3:07 pm |
  4. Bob Virginia

    The important issues will we see the price of soccer balls and six packs increase under a democratic president? Payback takes all forms.

    October 7, 2008 03:08 pm at 3:08 pm |
  5. Tony

    JOHN MCCAIN AND SARAH PALIN ARE DESPERATE! TEHY ARE DROPPING IN THE POLLS, AMERICANS ARE WAKING UP AND SEEING THEM FOR EXACTLY WHAT THEY ARE, AND DO NOT LIKE WHAT THEY SEE.

    WHEN ONE HAS NO RECORD OF HIS/HER OWN TO RUN ON THERE IS ONLY ONE OPTION LEFT TO THEM AND THAT IS TO ,,,,LIE, DISTORT, ACCUSE AND ATTACK. FOR THE NEXT FOUR WEEKS, MCCAIN AND PALIN ARE GOING TO WALLOW IN THE GUTTER, LIE, DECEIVE AND THEY ARE GOING TO USE THE OLDEST REPUBLICAN TACTIC IN THE BOOK.

    THEY ARE GOING TO PLAY THE FEAR GAME. PREPARE YOURSELVES AMERICA, BECAUSE DESPERATE PEOPLE DO VERY DESPERATE THINGS.

    McCain and his hatchet mom VP nominee are hoping to expose the "real" Barack Obama to the people of America; but what they are really exposing is how MORALLY CORRUPT McCain has become.

    And how complete has been his transformation from a noble reformer, willing to stand up to his own party when it failed to meet his moral code, into an ignoble hack, willing to abandon his most deeply held values in his lust for the presidency.

    This was John McCain in 2000, commenting on the disgusting attacks against him by Karl Rove, George Bush, and a few of the people now doing their very dirty work for him.

    "Sooner or later people are going to figure out that if all you run is negative attack ads you don't have much of a vision for the future, or you're not ready to articulate it."

    October 7, 2008 03:08 pm at 3:08 pm |
  6. Peter (CA)

    Ugh! These ads are so tasteless, no matter what side they come from. I am just glad that it's not just the right wingers attacking.

    Hopefully, voters will become disgusted and ignore them.

    October 7, 2008 03:08 pm at 3:08 pm |
  7. Lifelong Republican for Obama, Columbia, TN

    Most of these so-called 527 groups are just plain silly. There message-whether liberal or conservative-is often so extreme, that they are only going to attrack the lunatics on the fringes of both parties.

    Moderates and Independents are not swayed by this foolishness. Moreover, I think that most Americans, in general, are middle-of-the-road in their political beliefs, and they are less likely to fall for this mess. Certainly, in these very serious economic times, we need to focus on practical matters like how to fill up the gas tank, how to cloth your children, will I have a job in the morning, how will afford my diabetes medication, how will afford next semester's tuition, etc., etc.,

    These are the issues that matter. These are the issues that have prompted me to cross party lines and vote for Obama-Biden 2008. McCain-Palin is a freakin JOKE!!! (AND A BAD ONE AT THAT.)

    October 7, 2008 03:08 pm at 3:08 pm |
  8. RMKING FL FOR OBAMA

    Sad sad McSame with the lies and attacks. It will not stop us from voting for someone who can get us out of this republican mess. If you all didnt steal the election in 2000 we wouldn't be in this mess. So as a punishment just bite the bullet and vote for OBAMA. NO ONE CAN DO WORSE THAN WHAT BUSH HAS DONE. Let's not let incompentence and low expectation rule again. Remember you don't have to be educated to be smart but in this case i guess you have to be.

    October 7, 2008 03:09 pm at 3:09 pm |
  9. mike-ft myers

    This should be the best debate of the year. McCain knows that a anything but a clear victory is a lost. Obama is in a good position to make McCain look irritable and just sit back and counter punch. Obama by TKO in 3 rounds!

    October 7, 2008 03:09 pm at 3:09 pm |
  10. Republican Woman for Obama - FL

    well no wonder he is leading in double-digits in PA! people are sick of the negative lying ads!

    October 7, 2008 03:09 pm at 3:09 pm |
  11. Kelby from Houston, TX

    liberalAll you conservatives out there that toss the word 'liberal' around like it's something bad or something we should be ashamed of. Please take some time, pick up a dictionary and look up the definition of liberal. I use webster's definition of liberal to define my politcal positions and ideology.
    Conservatives, I know you won't take the time so here let me give it to you

    liberal: favoring gradual reform, especially political reforms that extend democracy, distribute wealth more evenly, and protect the personal freedom of the individual
    Other words that can be used in place of liberal

    open minded
    broadminded
    moderate
    freethinking
    tolerant
    generous
    I am politcally and socially progressive.

    bY THIS DEFINITION WE SHOULD ALL BE LIBERAL

    October 7, 2008 03:09 pm at 3:09 pm |
  12. Mark

    Tax Issues for Sarah Palin

    Sarah Palin released her 2006 and 2007 tax returns on October 3, 2008. She received reimbursements totaling $43,500 for travel and lodging for her family in connection with state business. Of that total, $25,000 was for her children's travel and $18,500 was for her husband's travel.

    Bryan Camp, a tax professor at Texas Tech University School of Law and a former Internal Revenue Service lawyer in Washington, said the IRS would ask several questions to determine whether the travel reimbursements were reported properly. Those questions include whether Mr. Palin and the children were employees of the state of Alaska, whether they traveling for bona fide business purposes, and whether they would have been able to deduct those travel expenses on their own tax returns for business purposes. Because the answer to at least one and possibly more of those questions is no, "The Palins should have reported the $43,500 in family travel allowances received in 2007 as income," Mr. Camp wrote in an analysis.

    Also, Sarah Palin accepted $17,000 in per-diem meal payments for nights spent at her home in Wasilla, 40 miles from the governor's office she used in Anchorage, Alaska. She used that office rather than traveling to the state capital of Juneau. Several tax experts have argued this should be counted as taxable income, too.

    Can't you see an IRS audit occuring after November 4th?

    October 7, 2008 03:09 pm at 3:09 pm |
  13. Gerry in Va. for Obama.

    Certainly these "groups" have learned the voter is wiser to the 527's then they were last election. These kinds of advertising can certainly do damage to a candidate unless the voter listens and investigates the advertising very closely. Hopefully most voters will ignore this type of ad as being prejudice against any candidate and most are quite inacurate.

    October 7, 2008 03:10 pm at 3:10 pm |
  14. abby

    I look for senator Obama to elevate the conversation as he always does. McCain will try to drag him to the gutter but we need to discuss our life savings right now, our 401Ks. Thank you, Senator Obama, for taking the high road.

    October 7, 2008 03:10 pm at 3:10 pm |
  15. tulsa

    BY THE WAY, BOTH THE ANTI-OBAMA ADDS HAVE ALREADY BEEN DEBUNKED BY FACT CHECK.

    LET'S HEAR THE TRUTH. VOTE OBAMA

    October 7, 2008 03:11 pm at 3:11 pm |
  16. Larry

    I would like to remind Americans that when they are making a decision on who will be the next President please realize that your economy has investors like me that are from other countries, and I too am depending on you for my well deserved retirement.Now that being said there is much fear here in Canada by investors that McCain will get voted in.We had a meeting of investors this week and 356 attended and we learned what it means econimically speaking if McCain gets in and it is some scary.It is no secret that investors are very fearful of the McCain Palin duo.There was an overwhelming majority that would pull out investments if McCain was to win.As well I work for a large international company and at Monday mornings economic meeting there is two models of how we go forward in our business with America.In short the investment is minimal if McCain Palin wins and there is a much stronger and better outlook for Obama.There is an incredible danger for the economy if McCain wins.Please my beloved neighbors use your best common sense and think of the now and the future and without a strong economy there is little else.I truly believe that it would take a good ten years to recover from what a McCain Palin would tear down in the first year.It is getting to be a fact that there will be very little trust in your economy if McCain gets in.Best of luck to all.

    October 7, 2008 03:12 pm at 3:12 pm |
  17. a southern bell for OBAMA

    PEOPLE, PEOPLE, HURRY & TRY TO GET

    ELECTED THE MAN WHO IS MOST RESPONSIBLE

    FOR THE DEREGULATION OF THE FINANCIAL

    MARKETS & WHO WANTS TO DEREGULATE

    HEALTH CARE. HE IS IN FACT MORE RESPONSIBLE

    THAN BUSH. WE CAN DO WORSE !!!!!!!!

    HE IS ONE ANGRY,IGNORANT, GREEDY HATEFUL,OLD MAN.

    October 7, 2008 03:13 pm at 3:13 pm |
  18. high information voter

    Say it ain't so, Joe....more ads that are from outside sources that are not accountable to anyone, and they distort and attack? Not again.

    I guess whatever depresses voter turnout is what these groups will try. Let's out smart them and go and vote anyway...what'cha say, fellow mavericky types? You betcha!

    October 7, 2008 03:14 pm at 3:14 pm |
  19. Real Talk

    These people have no right on the T.V. Put real peple with real concerns on ads. Not partisan pimps.

    October 7, 2008 03:14 pm at 3:14 pm |
  20. Hillary supporter for Obama

    and this is what Christian conservatives are about? They parade themselves as keeping in line with values and faith... well apparently that all goes out the window every four years. This is ridiculous... the DOW has lost more than 10% in almost 3 days... that's about 10 years worth of growth, yet mccain and palin want to talk about who I need to worry about and the judgements they make... ughhh.

    October 7, 2008 03:14 pm at 3:14 pm |
  21. Anonymous

    ...if "Obama had his way, I wouldn't be here," says Gianna Jessen in the new spot.
    _________

    Actually, Gianna Jessen, if your mom had her way you wouldn't be here.

    October 7, 2008 03:14 pm at 3:14 pm |
  22. Rob

    Yep, let's get all them Soros backed groups starting up the lies and smear campaigns. Standard Dem playbook.

    So now I see that Kenya's now detaining people who don't bow to Obama. Nice, yeah that's change. Hmm, countries detaining people with negative views, children in uniforms singing anthems to you.....Gotta wonder what kind of change you're pulling for Barry. Will the Pledge of Allegiance be replaced with something containing the words 'seek' and 'hail'?

    And to you CNN – you gonna post this or still go in favor of the mindless drones chanting lies about McCain...well, and lies about Obama.

    Once again, challenge to anyone who can tell me one thing Obama would do for the country. And your answer has to be more than the word 'change'

    October 7, 2008 03:15 pm at 3:15 pm |
  23. JOANN

    american the beautiful....filled with racist hate-mongers and liars.....

    obama if God is for you, no man can be against you......God had you in his favor....May God continue to bless and protect you from these phony christians....

    October 7, 2008 03:15 pm at 3:15 pm |
  24. leapfrog

    The 527s can say what they want. THE issue is now the economy, the economy, the economy. McCain's background has help lead us to this crisis. Obama is needed to clean up after the GOP. Stop the fat cats, stop the hate machine, stop bloody wars, and stop loss of freedom. Vote Obama.

    October 7, 2008 03:15 pm at 3:15 pm |
  25. Julie

    How sad that negativity is what most people want to hear. I wish these organizations would have ads that hold their candidate up with how their candidate is better and what that person can do for American and stop the 1/2 truths and mud slinging about the opponent.
    I hope that people look up and read the facts not listen and accept what one organization or person says as the honest truth.
    No wonder politicians have such a bad reputation...if you listen to them each one is a lier and a cheat!

    October 7, 2008 03:15 pm at 3:15 pm |
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