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. Mikey

    And the sleaze machine is being cranked up, especially by an increasingly desperate McCain campaign. Mostly McCain is hiding behind Sarah Palin and these 527 groups, but he has done some of his own lying.

    Yesterday, his campaign hit new lows:

    McCain has begun to try to cast doubts regarding Obama's motives – after tearing into Obama's character and saying "who is the Barack Obama" and audience member shouted "Terrorist!"

    A uniformed police officer introduced Sarah Palin saying that "Barack HUSSEIN Obama” had something coming on Nov. 4.

    Then Palin who has now brought up Wright and Ayers and said of an Obama Presidency "I am just so fearful", brought up Obama's tie to Ayers and an audience member shouted "Kill him!".

    The McCain camp has disgustingly descended even further in the tone of their rhetoric. They are now openly and deliberately stoking hate and fear and praying on deep-seeded biases. I understand the Presidency is a big prize, but is it really worth descending into such an abyss? They should be ashamed of themselves!

    Vote for Obama-Biden or vote against the Sleazeball Express. Either way, it's a vote for a better future.

    Obama '08 YES WE CAN !

    October 7, 2008 03:27 pm at 3:27 pm |
  2. 12 HOUSES to O

    FINANCIAL DEVASTATION BY THE MAVERICK !!!!!

    HE IS DEFINITELY A MAVERICK OF THE WORST KIND.

    HE ALMOST WOUND IN JAIL FOR THE KEATING FIVE

    & MASHAME HAS ALWAYS WANTED TO BUST THE

    RULES THAT ALMOST LANDED HIM IN PRISON.

    IS\F THERE ARE NO RULES, YOU CAN'T GO TO PRISON

    FOR BRAKING THEM. COWBOY ECONOMIES FOLKS

    IS WHAT HAS LANDED US HERE. DO YOU WANT MORE ????

    October 7, 2008 03:28 pm at 3:28 pm |
  3. Lina

    Time is now 3:28pm in NY. Dow is down 395, Nasdaq 76 and S&P 47.

    Way to go Republican's. Sarah Palin is attacking very personal way to Democrats yet she is not talking to Media accompanying her in Air Plane.

    Why is the news media flying around with the Palin if she will not talk on the record with them?

    Palin allows her supporters to yell "kill him" and "terrorist", but won't answer Americans questions.

    Does she realize she acts more like a military regime than an American politician?

    The candidates are boycotting the media why doesn't the media boycott the Mccain/Palin ticket and not cover them. If the free press coverage stopped, I bet, the candidates would become available for questions.

    October 7, 2008 03:28 pm at 3:28 pm |
  4. FRIEND, FRIEND..!

    BIDEN: "You got to love this man MCCain; I tavelled the world with

    John" Oops wait a minute I've got a new friend now and I got to do

    what I'm told to do and bring down dear John." America trust me

    Joe who is your true friend...!

    October 7, 2008 03:28 pm at 3:28 pm |
  5. FreeNLovIt

    What does Palin and Cheney and Bush have in common? They love to RUSH to war ....

    If you love Cheney, you will love Palin!! At 3AM, she'll bomb all enemeies without blinking or thinking...

    October 7, 2008 03:29 pm at 3:29 pm |
  6. Bulldog

    If McCain and Palin want to throw stones there are plenty of bricks to be thrown right back.

    How is that abuse of power investigation going there Sarah?

    How is that radical Alaskan independence party that Todd Palin was a member of doing Sarah?

    How is Mr. Keating doing there that Cindy did alot of business with doing John?

    How is that group you sat on the board that had shady dealings during the Iran-Contra affair going John?

    October 7, 2008 03:30 pm at 3:30 pm |
  7. Lina

    CNN, why my comments are always awaiting moderation???.

    And some posts are not even posted in the boards.

    October 7, 2008 03:30 pm at 3:30 pm |
  8. KD NY, NY

    527s alive and well....for both parties. Yes it's true the liberal left (Michael Moore, Rosie O'Donnell and the View) can be just as nasty as the conservative right.

    October 7, 2008 03:30 pm at 3:30 pm |
  9. deborah, WV

    Another group to think about is the conservative media. They have had a profound negative effect on our country. Even this very election was in jepoardy when Rush Limbaugh was telling his listers to reregister their party lines and vote for Hilllary in the primaries, hoping to trip up Obama before the general election.

    Rush Limbaugh just signed a 400 million $$$ deal for the next 8 years. Where does this money come from?

    We the people can DO SOMETHING! We can boycott all his sponsers. We can vote with our dollars too. I for one refuse to buy ONE MORE THING from sponsers that are helping to destroy our country.

    CNN PRINT THIS!!!!!!

    October 7, 2008 03:30 pm at 3:30 pm |
  10. jaye

    Malicious Attack ads against Senator Obama have been airing since the primary campaign....and some are horrible.
    I'm glad he is fighting back.
    John McCain and Sara Palin are the worst of the worst in my opinion – their misleading lies and attacks are hurting them greatly, making them look like hypocrits (christians aren't supposed to lie!).
    Anyway, yes, the attack ads by the republicans will get meaner and uglier, and I will simply fast forward through them.
    Our country is at stake, and McCain has nothing to offer except attacks.
    He really is out of touch....and Palin is simply clueless.

    October 7, 2008 03:31 pm at 3:31 pm |
  11. M. Winners

    Hey Obama 526s – Where you guys at?

    Come on – Quit bein' such "girly men".

    Support Obama by bustin' the old geezer in the chops for becoming a neocon hypocite and Palin for being a religious nut job that doesn't read!

    American need to know these things!!

    October 7, 2008 03:31 pm at 3:31 pm |
  12. Wrinkly and Winky

    Tainopower-

    You are a psycho-freak and I don't know HOW your comments get posted!

    To everyone else, check it out: Palin owes $25,000 in back taxes.
    Why can't the two Mavericks pay their taxes like the rest of us are required to do?

    October 7, 2008 03:32 pm at 3:32 pm |
  13. Cleavette

    I believe McCain is reverting back to his captivity in Vietnam. Doing whatever it takes to stay alive. The best job for McCain is a job at the Smithsonian where he will be able to tell and re-tell his story of how he represents the "Joe Six Packs" of America. He must be refering to Joe Liberman who has NO party, NO friends. After November 4th, McCain, Liberman and their grandaughter (Sarah Palin) can all take long walks together.

    October 7, 2008 03:33 pm at 3:33 pm |
  14. jaye

    If McCain takes off the gloves and starts attacking tonight, he will look like the desperate person he is.
    I am thoroughly ashamed of McCain and Palin.

    October 7, 2008 03:33 pm at 3:33 pm |
  15. Moose Pies

    @TAINOPOWER October 7th, 2008 3:02 pm ET

    Brilliant blogs!

    It is clearly apparent why you would for McCain-Palin ticket. You are as intelligent and wise as they are. I guess birds of a feather....

    Obama -Biden 08

    October 7, 2008 03:33 pm at 3:33 pm |
  16. Deb

    They should run an ad that shows John McCain telling a crowd of supporter "Who is Barack Obama" and you here someone shout "terroist" and "kill him". How about the deputy who introduced Sarah Palin in Florida and he said to go out and vote so we can be done with Barrack "Hussein" Obama and Palin telling a heckler her son is in Iraq fighting for his freedom (don't think so, Iraq has nothing to do with our freedom).

    October 7, 2008 03:33 pm at 3:33 pm |
  17. Susie in Bandon, Oregon

    DON'T VOTE AT ALL!!!!!!

    That is how I am feeling right now with all the negative ads.

    If Americans would threaten to not vote at all, maybe these creeps would stop running negative ads.

    DON'T WATCH THE ADS, ANY OF THEM, GOOD OR BAD!

    BOYCOTT THE DEBATES!

    October 7, 2008 03:33 pm at 3:33 pm |
  18. Matt

    Barney "Pole smokin'" Frank had a long term affair with some big wig at Fanny and Freddy. How's that for working in the country's best interest? Who was using who?

    Obama=Acorn=Fannie&Freddie=Barney Frank=Democrats=Far Left=Socialism=Not my Vote.

    Too many unanswered questions.

    McCain/Palin "Kick some A$$" !!!!

    October 7, 2008 03:34 pm at 3:34 pm |
  19. Maggie from Virginia

    McCain and Palin are promoting hate and this will be their down fall. I wouldn't be surprised if they both are out of jobs when Obama/Biden take office. God don't like ugly.

    October 7, 2008 03:34 pm at 3:34 pm |
  20. MEP

    Throwing dirt just diminishes the size of the place left to stand . How about some actual policies and strategies for a change?

    October 7, 2008 03:34 pm at 3:34 pm |
  21. Doug R.

    McCain is a disgrace to the United States. His campaign is nothing but lies and smears. He has nothing to offer. Absolutely nothing. He thinks he's entitled to be President because he was a POW in VietNam or something. That doesn't mean a thing to me. Talk about the important issues facing Americans, like this George Bush/ Republican economy, or healthcare, or education...You will be humiliated by the voters on 11/04/08. And you deserve it.

    October 7, 2008 03:34 pm at 3:34 pm |
  22. R, Ohio

    I am so sick of this nonsense! At this point in the election, I'm fairly certain that the "Independent Voters" are leaning closer to one candidate. If their opinions can be easily swayed by this garbage they were already leaning toward the candidate that they will eventually choose. I think this is a waste of money and time. Our country is in a crisis for God's sake and they are still spewing this mess. I hope America wakes up to this tired and old tactics.

    I suggest anyone that's on the fence to do your own research; don't let others tell you what to think.

    October 7, 2008 03:34 pm at 3:34 pm |
  23. John Anthony, MN

    This is the source of the real dirt, lies, and distortion. These special interest groups are comprised of evil liars whose lust is for power, not the betterment of the country. These perverse groups should be totally banned forever!

    October 7, 2008 03:34 pm at 3:34 pm |
  24. Tony

    MCCAIN UNDERESTIMATED THE WOMEN OF AMERICA WITH HIS STUNT OF CHOOSING PALIN.

    THE REPUBLICANS HAVE ALWAYS COUNTED ON WOMEN ACROSS THE COUNTRY TO FALL IN LINE, DO AS TOLD, AND NOT THINK FOR THEMSELVES.

    EVEN THOUGH THERE ARE MANY WOMEN THROUGHOUOT THE COUNTRY STILL WILLING TO DRINK THE KOOL-AID, PUT THE LIVES OF THEIR FAMILIES, THEIR CHILDREN AND THEMSELVES AT RISK TO PROVE A POINT ARE THE ONES, WHO LIKE MCCAIN AND PALIN, WILL LOSE IN THE END.

    IF YOU THINK THINGS ARE BAD NOW, A MCCAIN / PALIN ADMINISTRATION WOULD COST YOU YOUR JOB, PENSION, 401(k), RETIREMENT SAVINGS, ETC.

    THANKFULLY, MANY AMERICANS HAVE PULLED BACK THE CURTAIN ON MCCAIN AND HIS DIMWIT PAL AND THEY DO NOT LIKE WHAT THEY SEE.

    MCCAIN WILL NOT ONLY LOSE THE PRESIDENCY FOR THE SECOND TIME, BUT HE WILL BE REMEMBERD FOR BEING AN ANGRY, BITTER, VINDICTIVE OLD MAN.

    A TITLE WELL-DESERVED.

    October 7, 2008 03:35 pm at 3:35 pm |
  25. Liz

    CNN, PLEASE REPORT ON THE RAID ON ACORN'S OFFICES IN NEVADA. THIS RAID IS LOOKING INTO FRAUDULENT REGISTRATION AND VOTING TAKING PLACE BY THIS ORGANIZATION. WHY IS CNN NOT REPORTING ON ? IS IT BECAUSE ACORN IS AFFILIATED WITH OBAMA WHY WE ARE NOT HEARING ANYTHING FROM CNN? COME ON CNN, THE AMERICAN VOTERS DESERVE TO KNOW WHATS GOING ON HERE SO WE CAN HAVE A FAIR ELECTION IN NOVEMBER!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    October 7, 2008 03:35 pm at 3:35 pm |
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