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. EBC, Boyds, MD

    THESE GROUPS ARE SO IGNORANT, THEY NEED TO TAKE THEIR MONEY AND HELP THOSE ORGANIZATIONS THAT REALLY NEED THE HELP, RATHER THAN WASTING IT ON "SMEAR AND FEAR" MONGERING ADs. UNBELIEVABLE!!!

    ABUSED CHILDREN
    ORPHANAGES
    WELFARE TO WORK PROGRAMS
    AFTER SCHOOL PROGRAMS
    CANCER FOUNDATIONS
    HIV/AIDS PREVENTION & EDUCATION PROGRAMS

    October 7, 2008 03:44 pm at 3:44 pm |
  2. Noah

    Karen-Phoenix- You are intellectually bankrupt to try and stick up for William Ayers. He was not convicted because he was able to get off on a technichality, but he absolutely bombed and killed by his own admission. Also, he even stated in he did not seek to educate students about math or science but rather about radically defying the government. Just because Chicago, a corrupt beyond fixing city, voted him Man of the Year, does not make him such. You and your liberal allies who seek to make excuses for despicable behavior make me sick

    October 7, 2008 03:45 pm at 3:45 pm |
  3. Kathy S. Cloughn

    It's too bad it has to come to this. McCain was always standing tall re this type of campaigning and then reverted to tsmears when he got so far behind. Shoulda picked Romney and then it would be a fair fight!

    With the selection of Palin he sold his soul to the devil so this type of campaigning does not surprise me. I thought at a minimum he would do the right thing but NOT!!

    Obama/Biden 08/12
    Hillary 2016

    October 7, 2008 03:45 pm at 3:45 pm |
  4. Rob

    I see the intelligent lacking, koolaid drinking Obamaholics are out in full force here. Tell me, do you all get your talking points and lies from The Annointed One via text, email, or does he divinely impart them unto ye?

    October 7, 2008 03:45 pm at 3:45 pm |
  5. Andy

    ACORN is at it again !!!!. A GOOD NAME FOR A BUNCH THAT WANT TO ELECT A -- N U T-–.

    October 7, 2008 03:45 pm at 3:45 pm |
  6. donna

    John McCain in 2000 said because of tactical decisions U.S. troops were put in the position of killing civilians in Kosovo - something awfully similar to the comments he's now attacking Barack Obama for.

    During a Republican primary debate in 2000 McCain called the Clinton strategy in Kosovo "obscene" because it forced troops into using tactics that meant civilians were going to get killed.

    "In the most obscene chapter in recent American history is the conduct of the Kosovo conflict when the president of the United States refused to prepare for ground operations, refused to have air power used effectively because he wanted them flying - he had them flying at 15,000 feet where they killed innocent civilians because they were dropping bombs from such - in high altitude."

    Sarah Palin said Obama should be "disqualified" for his remark about Afghanistan. Naturally, she will hold her running mate to the same standard.

    October 7, 2008 03:45 pm at 3:45 pm |
  7. jaye

    I saw the current prez on tv today talking about the financial crisis....yeah right. LOL
    Anyway, he's still helping his buddy, John McCain, behind the scenes – talking about oil drilling and not raising taxes and all the stuff that McCain will talk about tonight at the debate.
    It's shameful that Bush and McCain will stop at nothing to win this election – and it's so obvious what they're doing.
    I say shame on them!
    And Palin has been the biggest laugh of the election season. LOL

    October 7, 2008 03:46 pm at 3:46 pm |
  8. BM

    McCain and Palin rallies are nothing but Klanish. Is this the direction the people want to take this country?
    Palin needs to take care of her own legal issues. I can't understand why the press hasn't mentioned Palin's husband's ties with terroist who curse the US.

    October 7, 2008 03:46 pm at 3:46 pm |
  9. Barbara - 65 yr old white female in NC

    I'm voting Oct 16 for Barack Hussein Obama.

    Deal with you you right-wing nutcases.

    October 7, 2008 03:46 pm at 3:46 pm |
  10. Farrell, Houston, Tx

    Bernanke is no "Joe Six Pack" and he said today our economy is worsening. Obama keeps his message on Economics 101 which is something he is highly educated to talk about and McCain and Palin seem to think Americans want to watch the latest soap of smear and hate.

    October 7, 2008 03:47 pm at 3:47 pm |
  11. Linda from Prescott AZ

    To the people who are shouting out such hateful things at these Palin rallies....You are very sick people. Senator Obama is an honorable man. You all need to look in the mirror and ask yourself what in hell are you thinking. Are we becoming so uncivil in this country that we would shout those obscene and outrageous statements during a Rally. Where is ms palin's decency? Why is she trying to incite violence....you are being used and by the pig in lipstick and his pitbull hockey mom.

    October 7, 2008 03:48 pm at 3:48 pm |
  12. Brad

    I have one quick question for all these Obama folks on here. Uhh do any of you have a job? If you have a job then how do you have time to be on here so much? Oh I forget working Republicans are keeping up your welfare wanting needing Democrats.

    October 7, 2008 03:48 pm at 3:48 pm |
  13. A-Man

    Looking in from Canada amazes us and the world how this could be a close race at all. On won hand you have Obama, an intelligent charismatic politican that could lead the world. Has shown organizational skills in his campaigns second to none. On the other you have McCain who has selected a joke for a running mate in Palin. McCain who most of the world respected until his lie after lie on tv. You see in Canada we get independent unbiased reporting on the campaign in the US. We see both sides for what they are. We are not racist against blacks and generally have more educated people in our population. Unlike the US life is about the whole world to us and not just our country. The groups and the people who are supporting McCain are for most part very scummy, ignorant, and often not intelligent people. Clinton a Democrat with half the skills of Obama lead the country well. Bush created twice as many terrorists as he has killed, ran the country into ruin and McCain was right there with him, and has never made any plan to run the country differently. And keep in mind that Canadians as a whole and my self have always supported a republican president. We seen it better for trade. There is no doubt that Obama is best for the US and the world, McCain would further destroy the US and create great ill will to the US and Western cultures which include us.

    October 7, 2008 03:48 pm at 3:48 pm |
  14. THE 2008 REPTILIAN TICKET IS MCKEATING5 WHO TAKES 112K IN OFFICE AND AN ALASKAN GOV. THAT ABUSES THE POWER OF OFFICE. DOES AMERICA REALLY NEED TWO MORE CROOKED REPTILES IN THE HIGHEST OFFICES IN THE LAND? YOU DECIDE!

    Here are a couple of facts you may want to consider while chewing on your cud and before spitting like a camel(moose may do it as well but I do not know and I only deal with FACTS!).

    Fact, Obama was EIGHT years old when Ayers was pulling his act. EIGHT! One of your daughters named Windy or Tundra or North Star is EIGHT. So in that warped reality you call logic, will she grow up to be a terrorist, just because there are terrorist in America? Any improper Obama connections as an adult have been public for months and even the article you cited said as much, but then you proved you cannot read when Couriis asked you to name a magazine of newspaper. My bad.

    Fact: McCrypt was involved with Charles Keating and was a member of the Keating 5. Since you are so self-absorbed with Sarah, or cannot read, let me refresh that functioning brain cell you have under tentative command. Keating was involved in the collapse of the SAVING AND LOAN industry. McCrypt accepted over 100,000 bucks from him, along with vacations. It has long been a view by us liberal “communist’ that Cindy kept him out of jail by buying his way out by reimbursing for the vacations. However, that did not prevent the Senate Ethics Committee from ruling that he had shown very “poor judgment” with taking the contributions.

    So to recap for simpleton Sarah:

    Barack Obama has never been convicted of showing “bad judgment” by Congress in his dealing with Ayers or any other dealings for that matter..

    John McCain was convicted of “bad judgment” in taking Keating contributions. The fact that McCrypt was in Congress and involved in the SAVINGS AND LOAN collapse, and is now in Congress for the BANKING collapse, would not seem to this author to be a wise road to tour in the “Liars Express”!

    Putting “Country First“ might be believable if the McCrypt camp spent the next month sharing ideas for the banking crisis, instead of hurling unfounded accusations like angry school children shouting school yard taunts!

    October 7, 2008 03:48 pm at 3:48 pm |
  15. Respectable Republican

    McCain has signs of dementia and Palin is just plain nuts. Forty years ago, Martin Luther King withstood this same issue of equality and now this. I am not going to vote or support this negative McCain/Palin campaign.

    October 7, 2008 03:49 pm at 3:49 pm |
  16. liz for hillary clinton

    i am so glad that we are really getting to know who NOBAMA really is...i was wondering why Rev Wright and all his shady friends went away so fast and the media stopped talking about it...

    also WHO IS REALLY funding NOBAMA's campaign...I have heard that SOME real radical people ARE...honestly WHY won't he tells US...WHAT IS HE TRYING TO hide...AND guess what if he makes it or NOT he gets to KEEP this MONEY...MAN he is going to have some DEEP pockets if you ask me...maybe NOBAMA will take us out of this "economic crisis" NOT

    October 7, 2008 03:49 pm at 3:49 pm |
  17. Tiff of Lithia Springs

    Tainopower just vote for Palin. Her and her husband wanted to take a stripe off the american flag when they wanted Alaska to break away from USA. That was in the early 2000s when both were old enough to know better. NOT 8 years old. GET A GRIP BUDDY!!!

    October 7, 2008 03:49 pm at 3:49 pm |
  18. richard

    PLEASE report on Obama backing ACORN offices being raided and homeless people being bused to voting booths for Obama in Ohio. Do your job CNN errr ONN.

    October 7, 2008 03:49 pm at 3:49 pm |
  19. KJL

    It always bugs me when abortion comes into political discussions. I hate the idea of abortion, and a career in the medical field has convinced me that nobody involved in one is happy about it. However, until they have seen a pre-teen child come into an emergency ward bleeding profusely from self-inflicted injuries, anti-abortion activists should keep their opinions to themselves. I've also noticed that the most vocal aren't quite so loud when it's them or their child.

    October 7, 2008 03:50 pm at 3:50 pm |
  20. Dave

    CNN, I would be very interested to know the proportion of 527's operating. Are there just as many "for" McCain as "for" Obama, or is does one group have more running than the other.

    It would be great to see this data!

    thanks...

    October 7, 2008 03:50 pm at 3:50 pm |
  21. ephra

    Here we go again w/the veterans for mudslinging trying in yet another distasteful attempt to paint senator Obama as unpatriotic and unamerican, like you did to senator kerry eight years ago.
    Except that this time is not going to work ,we know now who we are dealing with. The democrats will get our country out the mess it is in, and even you v for f will enjoy the bounty, and your sons and the sons of your sons...think about that. MY VOTE IS FOR OBAMA.

    October 7, 2008 03:50 pm at 3:50 pm |
  22. April Garlow

    We are selecting someone for the most important job in America, too bad more people don't understand the hiring process.We can't look into the future to see what people will do, so we must be allowed to examine their record, their character, the things they have said and done are important.Obama has voted to raise taxes 94 times,he voted with Bush on the energy plan that gave those big tax breaks to the oil companies.Everytime a crisis comes up, he says something lame, then waits a few days to come up with a response.His lack of judgement in picking longtime friends and mentors speaks for itself,my dad always said– birds of a feather flock together.He has insulted with his own lips,women,whites,rural voters and our military personnel fighting in Afganistan.These aren't smears,they are facts.

    October 7, 2008 03:51 pm at 3:51 pm |
  23. Linda

    I still not believe that CNN, along with all the other networks and (supposed) journalists who purport to care about our troops and reporting truth, covered up Obama's egrigrious act of cancelling his visit to see the wounded troops in Germany, instead opting for some time to play Bball for himself, because he couldn't make his visit to see the wounded troops a political spectacle.

    instead of cancelling cameras and media from following him, he instead preferred to cancel his visit seeing wounded troops in the hospital in German.

    And he wan'ts to be commander in chief of those troops, huh?

    October 7, 2008 03:51 pm at 3:51 pm |
  24. linda from South Dakota

    speakin og palins dinner,, these poor porple paid tons of money and only got sandwiches etc,,, one would think she could have done better than that,, her speeches are alot to be deisred for,, all thoes negative ads her and mccain are spoutin out there are hurting them and really trunin this country into as school recess brawl,,, its time we think and get serious and talk about the issues,, and stop this name calling,, please grow up canidates,,,, its america not the school playground geezzz

    October 7, 2008 03:51 pm at 3:51 pm |
  25. jaye

    The great thing is that Senator Obama will speak out against the lies that McCain and Palin spread against him.
    Senator Obama has so many strikes against him, yet, he's gaining in the polls and doing well with voters.
    I support him fully simply because i think he's best for our country – that he and Joe Biden will do more for our country that the republican party ever will.

    October 7, 2008 03:52 pm at 3:52 pm |
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