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. John in Ohio

    Palin is married to a secessionist who hates America and thinks Alaska should secede from the US. Todd Palin has been a member of the Alaska Independence Party, whose motto is "Alaska First, Alaska Always". If Barack or Michelle Obama had been in a group that had a motto "Chicago First, Chicago Always", you can bet you'd hear about it. Palin and her husband are anti-American. Notice how whenever she isn't wearing her big gaudy flag pin, she's wearing a big gaudy pin that says "ALASKA". And McCain doesn't wear any pin at all.

    Who is putting Country First? Not McCain-Palin.

    -Not a paid Democrat staffer. Not organized. Independently defending Obama and attacking McCain without any official or unofficial sanctioning from the campaign. I know it's amazing that somebody would support a candidate without getting anything for it, but I am anyway.

    October 7, 2008 03:15 pm at 3:15 pm |
  2. A NATION OF WINERS for OBAMA

    WE NEED TO ELECT MCSHAME !!!

    WE ARE NOT BROKE ENOUGH !!!!

    WE ARE NOT SICK ENOUGH !!!!

    LETS DO A THREEPEAT !!!!

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

    Silly season is in full swing now, hopefully McCreepy doesn't come out on top cause that only means eternity in Iraq while every domestic issue is ignored.

    October 7, 2008 03:17 pm at 3:17 pm |
  4. ACORN + Obama = stealing election

    Voter fraud on a national scale. Obama and ACORN are working to steal an election and the media ignores it compeltely. another federal raid today.

    October 7, 2008 03:18 pm at 3:18 pm |
  5. Mary from Sarasota FL

    The lunatic fringe is alive and well.... uhhh maybe not so "well"
    yech.... disgusting. I feel sorry for all those Veterans who have been led to believe Obama is not going to help them... What a shame.

    October 7, 2008 03:18 pm at 3:18 pm |
  6. karen-phoenix

    I've been a republican for 40 years. Republican election judge for over 14 years. NO MORE and none of these will change my mind because I go to web sites and research!!! AND living AZ I know how NUTS McCain is and how much he has NOT done for this state!!! One of the most selfish, narcisstic men on the face of this earth!!! Obama is intellegent, calm and will work well with everyone without "punching" anyone out(which McCain has done in the senate!). God bless Obama/Biden

    October 7, 2008 03:19 pm at 3:19 pm |
  7. Ken

    The neo-wingers are getting desperate as they watch Dumbf-kistan get smaller and smaller. Looks like people do want to elect the smart ones for once. And all the money is being spent on the [R]ight in order to convince you not to elect the smart ones. I hope all the dimwits and dolts spend all the money they can in supporting the losing McCain ticket...I want them to waste as much of their money as possible. They've certainly wasted enough of mine over the last 8 years.

    October 7, 2008 03:20 pm at 3:20 pm |
  8. Former Republican for OBAMA

    THE MAVERICK THAT WORKED TIRELESSLY TO

    DEREGULATE THE FINANCIAL SECTOR WANTS

    TO REPAIR IT. IN SHORT, THAT IS LIKE GETING A

    RAPIST TO COUNSEL HIS VICTIMS.

    HE IS ALSO OFFERING THE SAME FOR HEALTH CARE.

    October 7, 2008 03:21 pm at 3:21 pm |
  9. megan

    Sarah Palin is a disgrace as a mother...to talk the way she does, invoking another candidate running for the presidency as a terrorist, mocking his job of helping others....are these the kind of morals she's instilling in her children? Letting them know its ok to try and tear town another for your own gain? As a mother, I am apalled at the example she is setting for her children.

    October 7, 2008 03:21 pm at 3:21 pm |
  10. Shari, NY

    Last evening I watched a sheriff on TV make a campaign speech denouncing “Barack Hussein Obama”. Some of you need to be educated. Take a trip outside of your enclave and head for cosmopolitan U.S. cities or, even better, a few spots around the globe. There are people with names which don’t “jive” with the stereotypical facial features of a race; Chinese who are practicing Catholics; Blacks with middle-eastern names who know neither Arabic nor the Muslim culture, and so forth. Migrate with the swallows, and take the winking Broom Hilda with you when you go on your fact finding mission! She could learn an iota of foreign diplomacy from it.

    October 7, 2008 03:22 pm at 3:22 pm |
  11. Rick

    Somebody needs to put out a 527 ad exposing the current financial crisis for the democrat scandal that it is. Make absolutely no mistake about it, this is a democrat scandal from a to z. Starting with Jimmy Carter, compounded by Bill Clinton, exploited by Barack Obama, Chris Dodd, Barney Frank and Nancy Pelosi and covered up by the liberal media. It's astonishing that so many people are blaming this on the republicans.

    October 7, 2008 03:22 pm at 3:22 pm |
  12. Len in Washington

    If one thinks of these two candidates as "products" (they are, after all, the 'products' of their respective parties) and that these ads are actually adverstisements for these "products" then shouldn't they be subject to the "truth in advertising" laws that are in effect for other adverstisements for products?

    There seems to be no regulation of these groups and what they say. For that matter, there seems to be no regulation for the Campaign ads by the parties either.

    It's time for the American people and OUR Congress to address these issues. To allow false advertising is wrong. I don't care who is doing it.

    October 7, 2008 03:22 pm at 3:22 pm |
  13. Kevin

    "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."

    October 7, 2008 03:23 pm at 3:23 pm |
  14. surprised????

    This from piglin's snout:
    At a rally in Jacksonville on Tuesday morning, McCain's running mate said he has "seen the corrupt ways of Washington and the wasteful spending and other abuses of power, and as president, I promise you, I'm going to help him do this. We're going to end those abuses."

    when was the pitiful old warmonger replaced? read and you'll see....
    looks like she is taking over......

    and, abuses of power? and wasteful spending? she should talk!!

    furthermore....mc c is part of the corruption in DC, give me a break!

    October 7, 2008 03:23 pm at 3:23 pm |
  15. what a video!!!

    TO ALL VOTERS PLEASE CHECK OUT THE YOU TUBE VIDEO. TYPE IN THE VIDEO THAT SOULD SINK JOHN MCCAIN'S PRESIDENTIAL DREAMS. ITS REAL DEEP ON PART530 PLEASE PEOLPE CHECK IT OUT. IT IS LIKE WOW AND WOW!!! ITS 6:36MIN LONG IT WOW

    October 7, 2008 03:23 pm at 3:23 pm |
  16. karen-phoenix

    You people better do your research!!! William Ayers NEVER was convicted of anything!!! Keating was and went to jail!!! AND WIlliam Ayers was named "Man of the year" in 1998 for the entire city of Chicago for all his work done for education.
    I lived through Vietnam–brother a pilot(who NEVER lost a plane) and the Weathermen were NO different than Code Pink today!!!! The worst were the National Guard who killed 5 students at Kent State College in Ohio!!! The Guard was worse than the Weathermen!!!! AND the Weathermen were NO terrorists–just against the Vietnam War–which never should have been anyway–just like Iraq!!!!

    October 7, 2008 03:23 pm at 3:23 pm |
  17. sal

    Obama Biden have won

    All Signs shall follow. McCain is loosing himself in this campaign.
    McCain is better than this.

    Mac blew it!

    He had many other women to Pick from. My guess, they did not want to be on the ticket.

    October 7, 2008 03:24 pm at 3:24 pm |
  18. newsnut

    If the Truth is written about, This Chister, B.H.Obama, then he should have to face the consequences. For him to just say he doesn't know, or doesn't remember is appaling for the citizens and Journalist to say hands off. McCain should let loose all barrels at one time. For the good and Honor of our Country and its Citizens. This is not the time to be compasionate. If its the Truth, then you are obligated to uphold those who died before you. You are speaking for them. Stand straight and tall, and give no Quarter, Citizen.

    October 7, 2008 03:24 pm at 3:24 pm |
  19. bobbi

    Obama has been more focused on the American people during this entire campaign, mccain HAS NOT, mccain did not think about the American people when he chose a completely UNQUALIFIED RUNNING MATE, HE DIDN'T THINK ABOUT THE AMERICAN VOTERS WHEN HE CHOSE TO STICK HIS HEAD IN THE SAND AND SAY OUR ECONOMY WAS FUNDALMENTALY STRONG, HE WASN'T THINKING OF US WHEN HE KEEPS ALL HIS MUD SLINGING AT THE TOP OF HIS AGENDA, VOTE OBAMA-BIDEN .

    October 7, 2008 03:25 pm at 3:25 pm |
  20. Scott NYC Independent

    Senator Obama has taken the chains off the dogs of war; McCain has sought our defeat and we stand ready to meet the challenge.

    Democratic 572's time to kick butt and forget about taken names.

    October 7, 2008 03:25 pm at 3:25 pm |
  21. Ex-Republican for Obama

    Sen. John McCain: I pledge again a respectful campaign. A respectful campaign based on the issues and based on the stark differences we have on the vision for the future of America.

    McCain: I've pledged to conduct a respectful campaign and I urge, time after time, various entities within the Republican party to also do that.

    How quickly the Maverick turns against himself. What a scam and traitor to all he has ever been and/or stood for. He is a pathetic shell of a human that is a clear and present danger to our great nation. We can not afford his antics in the white house. With a politician like McCain, who needs terrorists!?

    Obama is the only one that can keep us safe in the times ahead. With our current reputation around the world, the terrorist threats that exist and the crime running rampant in DC, there is only one man with a proven record of truely being a Maverick and changing washington. That man is Barack Obama!

    Obama/Biden '08: Because we need leaders, not whiners!

    October 7, 2008 03:25 pm at 3:25 pm |
  22. stephy

    John McCain is a complete disgrace to the USA. Any respect he earned as a POW is completely out the window. His campaign should change there slogan to "I'll Say Anything To Win".

    October 7, 2008 03:26 pm at 3:26 pm |
  23. fedupinCali

    I am tired of McCain avoiding issues of national importance and calling Barack Obama a liar. IF people in America believe that racism does not exist, here it is in full view of everyone. Barack is offering hope and the Republican party is offering the usual dose of fear topped off by a cup of racism. IF McCain steals this election, citizens of color should consider moving to another country!

    October 7, 2008 03:26 pm at 3:26 pm |
  24. CANADIAN CLUB

    AS A CANADIAN, I AM APPALLED AT THE HATRED AND VICIOUSNESS BEING DISPLAYED DURING PALIN'S AND McCAINS RALLIES. THE LACK OF DENUNCIATION BY THE TWO CANDIDATES IS EVEN MORE BAFFLING AND APPALLING. WHERE ARE THE AUTHORITIES IN FLORIDA? WHY ARE THE WACKOS NOT BEING ARRESTED,?... THE INDIVIDUALS YELLING "KILL HIM" AND " TERRORIST." MOST AMERICANS ARE DECENT LAW ABIDING CITIZENS, AND I WISH THEM THE BEST IN THESE DIFFICULT TIMES,... BUT HAVING SAID THAT, I HAVE LOST RESPECT FOR THE FLORIDA AUTHORITIES. I WILL NO LONGER VACATION IN FLORIDA, AND THAT SENTIMENT IS SHARED BY MANY OF MY FRIENDS. THE PLACE IS A DANGEROUS SNAKE PIT. GOD HAVE MERCY ON ALL HONOURABLE AMERICANS.

    October 7, 2008 03:27 pm at 3:27 pm |
  25. Bob Indianapolis IN

    Palin's rally in Florida looked like a Klan meeting! Some mental midget told one of the cameramen for the networks, "Sit down, boy!"

    Wallow in the mud, porcine Reptilicans! The end is near! Blue tsunami from sea to shining sea!

    October 7, 2008 03:27 pm at 3:27 pm |
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