October 7th, 2008
11:58 AM ET
10 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. Cynthia

    Kelby from Houston, TX, you rock! I'm so glad that somebody has taken the time to point that out!
    ...and Rob, the "Nazi-like tactics" that you are speaking of are not supported by such progressive parties like the Democrats and the Liberal Party. The repressive Nazi Party behavior that you elude to actually came from a party that was composed of ultra-conservative right-wingers.

    October 7, 2008 03:53 pm at 3:53 pm |
  2. Gail

    ANY person who is running for the highest offices in the Nation, who does not REFUTE when a surrogate calls for the DEATH of their opponent is simply dispicable. Palin is simply dispicable.

    Barack Hussein Obama has a wife and 2 young daughters, who he and Michelle are raising in the Christian faith and they themselves are Christian.

    Anybody who calls for the death of a fellow Christian and a fellow American is neither Christian nor American.

    Palin has failed both tests. She needs to step down. She is absolutely unfit for our Nation's 2nd highest office.

    October 7, 2008 03:53 pm at 3:53 pm |
  3. Elizabeth, New Hampshire

    Obama / Biden will win because they will be able to Unite the country.
    Palin is a separatist and a divider, and not qualified to run a diverse
    country. It was pretty clear in Palin's "he's not like us" propoganda,
    that she has an un-American agenda, of which we should be wary .
    Palin will sink John McCain's ship.

    October 7, 2008 03:54 pm at 3:54 pm |
  4. Hypocracy has no bounds

    I love it how everyone will attack McCain and the Repubs on the econmy but will not achkowledge that the democrats have more to do with the housing bubble failure than the republicans.

    Yes the Republicans are at fault but the Democrats had a much greater roll in it. Check out the Clerk records for the House of Representatives and also check out the Senate voting record.

    Until people do that to show both sides caused this, then you have no ground to stand on to blame sole responsibilty of this situation. I know the truth is hard to swallow but people who are biased to one side or the other and continue to spread bipartisan lies are the problems. So if this gets posted and if your reading it and you think its BS then you are part of the problem for the demise of this country.

    October 7, 2008 03:54 pm at 3:54 pm |
  5. John Smith

    TAINPOWER must me a very RICH Republican. May you continue to save your wealth my friend!

    October 7, 2008 03:54 pm at 3:54 pm |
  6. John in Ohio

    Noah: McCain was buddy buddy with Keating and with the organization behind the Iran-Contra affair.

    October 7, 2008 03:55 pm at 3:55 pm |
  7. arc, Lugano CH

    Kevin October 7th, 2008 3:23 pm ET"In Clearwater, arriving reporters were greeted with shouts and taunts by the crowd of about 3,000...One Palin supporter shouted a racial epithet at an African American sound man for a network and told him, "Sit down, boy."..
    Not surprising. This just sounds like Republicans, that's all.

    October 7, 2008 03:55 pm at 3:55 pm |
  8. Linda

    I still not believe that this network along with all the other networks and (supposed) journalists, who claim to care about our troops and reporting truth, covered up Obama's egregious 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?

    Air that. Play that non stop. I think that act alone should disqualify him from being commander in chief.

    October 7, 2008 03:55 pm at 3:55 pm |
  9. Tim

    @Tainopower – your ignorance is showing. Please take it elsewhere.

    October 7, 2008 03:55 pm at 3:55 pm |
  10. Brendan H., San Antonio, TX

    Personal to "undecided" – I hate to burst your bubble, but Liberals tend to be more informed on the issues because they examine each one and formulate their opinion. We have no national broadcast bloviators to tell us how to think, because we already know how to formulate our own thoughts. Liberals, for the most part, have attended liberal arts-related universities and colleges which provide them with a broad spectrum of topics to study and opinions to absorb. Based on polls I've read, the majority of independents tend to favor liberal programs, but reserve the right to cherry-pick those which are of importance to them as a voter and not to the betterment of any particular party.

    I'm a liberal. Why? Because I'm educated and have a conscience. But take heart – based on your post you should be proud to be the first in your clan to walk erect!

    October 7, 2008 03:56 pm at 3:56 pm |
  11. Ian

    What difference does it make? They are both liars anyway.

    October 7, 2008 03:57 pm at 3:57 pm |
  12. liz for hillary clinton

    mccain in 08 hillary 2012


    October 7, 2008 03:57 pm at 3:57 pm |
  13. independent

    Palin – what is everyone so afraid of ? Pro-life and pro America isn't that what it is all about for keeping our nation strong?

    October 7, 2008 03:57 pm at 3:57 pm |
  14. Baze

    Can we just vote already?


    October 7, 2008 03:58 pm at 3:58 pm |
  15. Brendan H., San Antonio, TX

    Personal to Noah: I'd like to see you post on the last 8 years of the Bush Administration. That is, if you have the guts to do it, and I doubt that very much!

    October 7, 2008 03:58 pm at 3:58 pm |
  16. aliou no palin no mcEratic

    McCain's own camp say palin is better than he is.

    It's hard not to think that way since she has managed to stay herself i.e. Small, and uncough, while he is following in her steps getting lower every day.

    Obama on the contrary, is rising as a man all of us can look up to, all through the primaries and now through this hell of a campaign.

    McCain's connection to Keating is just one example of how the man lacks judgement. He will stoop low each time to have his way.

    And we wonder how he cosied up with Bill Gramm and all the deregulators and cheaters in the world to get what he wants most, money and power for McCain, not for the country.

    It's always been about Mcain. Carol, his first wife knows something about it that she is not telling us.

    Vote Obama, forget the drama.

    October 7, 2008 03:58 pm at 3:58 pm |
  17. BRIAN


    I am sorry, but resisting an unjust war is not terrorism, sorry but it's not.

    Vietnam is and was an ugly stain on America. It is a war that should have never been fought. I mean after we left did communism spread across the planet, NO!

    So if I had been of age at that time and my government told me that I had to go, I am not so sure I would have gone, and I probably would have joined groups that fought for my rights as a citizen not to have to go.

    How about Bush, did he go, no and he did not organize with a rebellious group either, because he had his family’s name and money, so he got to skip it. Do you have any problems with that? Probably not.

    So unless you have had to fight against oppression and injustice than maybe you can't really speak about this issue.

    Ayers is as much a terrorist as Bush, think of all the innocent people who have died under the Bush administration.

    Do you count people who blow up clinics terrorist? Just wondering...

    October 7, 2008 03:58 pm at 3:58 pm |
  18. Eric

    Noah, Ayers did not kill. Don't talk about ignorance only to follow with such idiocy. Here's a question. What's worse. Bombing US buildings (making sure nobody gets hurt before) to protest about a war, or supporting US foreign policy that managed to put Pinochet in power so he can kill thousand of Chile people? Once you start thinking along those terms, may be you will be able to teach lesson to anyone else but for now, why don't you read before expressing your opinion.

    October 7, 2008 03:58 pm at 3:58 pm |
  19. Lost in Texas FOREVER

    for some reason I just feel that this type of advertising is no longer going to be as effective as it was in 2004 and 2000. One of the reasons why is because the economy is much worse than it was then and some of the folks who followed and believed that kind of junk my now be unemployed, lost their homes or both. No
    matter who you're choosing to vote for I think a lot of people will make their decisions based on how this new administration will effect them and not what some bitter group may try to persude them to do.

    October 7, 2008 03:59 pm at 3:59 pm |
  20. Minority for Obama

    May GOD be with you Obama. You have put up with so much crap from the McCain Campaign. I wish you all the best tonight, go get him with full force.

    To all the spammers: Thanks but no THANKS......it ain't working.
    Spammers Favor Obama Over McCain 7 to 1

    October 7, 2008 03:59 pm at 3:59 pm |
  21. Hillary Voter for McCain

    Nevada ACORN Headquarters RAIDED for voter registration fraud!!!


    October 7, 2008 04:00 pm at 4:00 pm |
  22. I Invented the McMuffin... and fire

    The most narrow minded people I know are republicans. Why is it that most college professors, educators and community organizers are DEMS?.. and as far as seeking handouts, I'm 43 and I've never so much as claimed unemployment. Dem since 1983.

    October 7, 2008 04:00 pm at 4:00 pm |
  23. a combat Vet


    I hope they point out that Obama lies and lies a lot. He also buys a lot of negative advertising,

    He and his wife are real pieces of work if you know what I mean.

    They are bitter and disrespect our country and our flag.

    They call women pigs and mid westerners bitter.

    I've news for Obama.... Wait until the November surprise.

    October 7, 2008 04:00 pm at 4:00 pm |
  24. Amy

    It's so sad that there are single issue voters that these ads actually appeal to. There are too many issues that are critical today to be a single issue voter!

    On a side note, TAINOPOWER seems to be stuck in a rut. They're fixated on a candidate's name – a name he had no part in choosing including a middle name that was not as inflammatory when he was born. I'm sure TAINOPOWER wouldn't like it if we made McCain sound like he's part of the elite (although he is) by calling him John Sidney McCain III.

    I can only pray these distractions don't take away from the issues at hand – most importantly the economy!

    October 7, 2008 04:00 pm at 4:00 pm |
  25. Elizabeth - Texas

    Why does Palin always wear a BIG Alaska pin? She is only representing the State of Alaska. The Alaska that she wants to be out of the USA.

    Palin is horrible. McCain is repulsive.

    October 7, 2008 04:00 pm at 4:00 pm |
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