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. W O W WO W

    O B A M A,,,,,,,,,DE B A T E,,,,,,,,W I M P,,,,,,,,,,,,W E A K

    October 7, 2008 04:00 pm at 4:00 pm |
  2. America

    Dear CNN, why don't you guys do a story about John McCain's involvement with a terrorist group that employed death squads in Latin America? John McCain sat on the board of…the U.S. Council for World Freedom," said Begala, "The Anti-Defamation League, in 1981 when McCain was on the board, said this about this organization. It was affiliated with the World Anti-Communist League – the parent organization – which ADL said 'has increasingly become a gathering place, a forum, a point of contact for extremists, racists and anti-Semites. The USCWF was founded in Phoenix, Arizona in November 1981 as an offshoot of the World Anti-Communist League. The group was, from the onset, saddled with the disreputable reputation of its parent group. The WACL had ties to ultra-right figures and Latin American death squads. Roger Pearson, the chairman of the WACL, was expelled from the group in 1980 under allegations that he was a member of a neo-Nazi organization.

    October 7, 2008 04:00 pm at 4:00 pm |
  3. Twan from Annapolis

    TONIGHT ALI vs. Frazier

    Im Bundini saying to BARACK...."Rumble young MAN RUMBLE"......

    Though the POLLS say otherwise...Barack is the UNDERDOG.....

    SO he has to 20x sharper than {John using a McCain Frazier}

    OLD MEN Never Lose their Strength only their SPEED and ENDURANCE. and McCain is throwing HAYMAKERS.

    Stay LIGHT on your feet OBAMA...BOB and Weave and take shots when you can... Beat him on points and STYLE..... Let HIM tire himself then knock him out in the 11th ROUND..... Rumble young MAN Rumble

    October 7, 2008 04:00 pm at 4:00 pm |
  4. Ex-Republican for Obama

    Noah you are a walking contradiction, unless of course you agree that McCain should have been executed for his treason as a POW.

    Now, do you? Either grow a set and endorse your fanatical dilusions on both sides, or STFU you hypocritical neo-con, reverse socialism loving freak of corruption and propoganda!

    October 7, 2008 04:01 pm at 4:01 pm |
  5. Matt

    Hey CNN,

    Why are there no articles about ACORN offices being raided for voter fraud on this site or on your channel? Afraid people can't handle the truth that once again this "Community Organizer" group that Obama was a member of once again is being investigated for voter fraud.

    October 7, 2008 04:01 pm at 4:01 pm |
  6. Country First?

    John McCain chose a "COUNTRY FIRST" motto, and then
    selects a totally unqualified woman to be possible president of the
    country. This woman is a threat to our national security. How is SHE going to protect us? The foreign enemy will know that we are a weak target if Sara Palin is ever allowed to command. John McCain may even be captured AGAIN while he is asleep in the White House. His "judgement" after all allowed him to crash five planes and get captured. We Had better think twice before helping the republican party fool this country again. WE THE PEOPLE are the country. WAKE UP

    October 7, 2008 04:01 pm at 4:01 pm |
  7. Canta

    I finally figured it out. All these negative blogs are coming from acorn members.

    McCain/Palin 08

    October 7, 2008 04:01 pm at 4:01 pm |
  8. Bruce

    There seems to be a group of people that just can't see past their nose. McCain speaks and it is GOSPEL.

    Palin has never really answered any question asked of her. The questions during the CBS interview were not hard but they sure caused her to stumble.

    Tonight we shall see who is the statesman. Tonight we will see who has a plan and talks about the REAL ISSUES and who is only able to attack the ideas of others.

    This constant attack mode shows that McCain is not able to bring biparticain cooperation because he will not listen to others. But when things go bad he always finds someone else to BLAME.

    October 7, 2008 04:02 pm at 4:02 pm |
  9. rin

    your ignorance shines through !!!!!

    October 7, 2008 04:03 pm at 4:03 pm |
  10. John Smith

    I like this from an earlier blog:

    "You know, you McCain supporters who disrespect the American legacy by shouting, fear mongering, and lying are only trying to run the same ole tactics from decades ago.

    If you haven't noticed, America is not listening to you this time. We've been lead down this road before. It is evident in the polls, that no one is listening to you.

    Please try getting NEW and POSITIVE ideas to make the case that your man or your party deserves to be in power. How about trying to recruit young people, diverse people, forward thinking people before your party becomes extinct!"

    October 7, 2008 04:03 pm at 4:03 pm |
  11. surprised????

    undecided....you piece of s..t.....I am a LIBERAL and I give like the millions of liberals in this country, educate yourself first and then have an intelligent conversation with a liberal, it will enlighten you

    you must be the supporter of those who shouted Terrorist and Kill Him! when piglin was opening her snout to incite the people...poor excuse of a woman she is.

    October 7, 2008 04:03 pm at 4:03 pm |
  12. Michael

    The Las Vegas ACORN office has been raided by Federal Agents on suspicion of voter fraud.

    This is an organization that Obama worked closely with and represented as a lawyer while he was a community organizer in Chicago. This is the organization that the Democrats tried to get 20 billion dollars funneled to in the bailout package before House Republicans put a stop to it. This organizaton has a vast history of voter fraud. It also was a major player in getting banks to give risky home mortgages to low income people. Using intimidation as a frequent tatic. This is an organization that Obama has an extensive history with.

    Where is the CNN reporting on this raid. This is major election news.

    October 7, 2008 04:03 pm at 4:03 pm |
  13. Allen in Hartwell, GA

    Looking at what the McCain campaign is putting out, I can imagine all of us being sick of the pro-McCain 527s ads by 4 November.

    October 7, 2008 04:03 pm at 4:03 pm |
  14. N.S of Huntsville, Al

    patriotism-the love and devotion to one's country I don't think any of the candaites president or vp don't love their country. You can say what you want about Obama he loves his country and wants to make it a better place.

    Pailn/McCain don't lift my spirits, hopes, dreams or anything they just make me angry. I wish Pailn/McCain would stop acting like they are the only two who are patriotic.

    And Bill Ayers I feel sorry for you, what ever choice you made in your past this judgemental society is never ever going to let you live it down, you weren't even charged, and who didn't like USA going to war many people felt the same way. I think its so sad they would tear this man and his wife down like there doing. Pailn you ought to be ashamed of yourself, your not perfect you have made terrible choices, and from the looks your paying for it, look at your family. You were having demons cast out of you. ANd you want to bring up this mans past and call him a terrioist? He is still alive working, and trying to make a living, I feel bad for him. I hate what you the republican party do to destoy peoples lives, tobring fear into the minds of the voters, but you know ever DOG has there day. And even if you cheat and win, you won't win the respect of the American people they will hate you an there will be so much more turmoil if McCain/Pailn get in office.

    Republicans you have too much hate in you!!

    October 7, 2008 04:03 pm at 4:03 pm |
  15. Treetmi Wright

    It’s UnConstitutional

    As election time rolls around, lets get to the heart of the situation. It’s not about who cavorts with whom or who’s more qualified – it’s really about who understands our Constitution.

    When our ancestors fled Europe to escape oppression from horrible dictatorial regimes, they drafted something different for the future of the Americas. Freedom and no oppression. Because of the current state of economic affairs in this country, it’s citizens are experiencing oppression. Our lawmakers, the people who we’ve entrusted with the care of our land, really need to stop thinking about themselves and focus on what’s best for America.

    So for this election – and all future elections – from President to Dog Catcher, the candidate who gets the job should be the one who not only takes the Constitution seriously but actually understands it and does everything in his or her power to make sure our homeland remains free from the oppression that would be caused by it’s leaders.

    October 7, 2008 04:04 pm at 4:04 pm |
  16. Joseph Adewole

    Obama really care about our troops in Iraq and afganistan but his hands may be tied as he is not yet in a position to give a direct order...Please elect this man so that he will be able to do what is right for our troops.
    Barack will not mock a Bible because he is a born-again Christian, devoted and spirit filled. Yoy guys better rally round BO and get him to The White House.

    October 7, 2008 04:04 pm at 4:04 pm |
  17. Bridget

    A black member of the press was attacked by supporters at a Palin rally today. Supporters cheered when someone called Obama a terrorist and again when a UNIFORMED sheriff (a no-no, I think, at a political rally), emphasized Obama's middle name as if to infer that he is less than American or a scary Muslim terrorist or whatever. These items should be a top story. It is the HATE base of the Republican party that McCain/Palin are reaching out to...sad.

    October 7, 2008 04:05 pm at 4:05 pm |
  18. undecided

    Very interesting Kelby, because most liberals I know are very narrow minded people with a one track mind. And when you nail them with the facts, they tend to blow up. The liberals that I know always want something for nothing and are always looking for someone to blame for their misfortune. And these people are far from generous, they are about as tight as anyone I have ever seen. Kind of like Biden, who gave less that $1000 to charity last year and Obama who won't even support his brother that lives in poverty. And as far as distributing the wealth more evenly, that is SOCIALISM which is one step away from COMMUNISM and it is made to money away form hard working people and give it to the lazy. If that is what you like, then move to China or Cuba.

    As for me thanks but no thanks.
    stop lying. You buy everything you see on the media? I am from Kenya and that brother is not even related to obama. That story was made up.
    To be sure, check when Obama's dad died '82
    The guy who was featured is only 19.

    Please write what you know for sure!

    October 7, 2008 04:06 pm at 4:06 pm |
  19. jm for sc

    Undecided, there are not greater fools on earth than conservatives who uses that name to hide their racist attitudes. I am a democrat who can comprehend a lie when one is told. I did my research and found that everything McCain has thrown out about Obama, there were something worse about him. Obama is being blamed for what other people did or said. McCain is being called out on things he have been involved in, example (Keating five).
    According to the CNN fact checker, McCain is lying about things that matters most to the American people.

    People like Sean Hannity and other members of Fox News does not report any thing negative about McCain. If Kate Couric did not interview Palin, we would have never known how big of mistake McCain made in selecting his VP. If Obama had been asked questions that simple and did not know the answer, it would have been headline news on every station.

    October 7, 2008 04:06 pm at 4:06 pm |
  20. denise


    October 7, 2008 04:08 pm at 4:08 pm |
  21. FactCheck

    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.


    The DNC should reply with an ad showing people on unemployment lines, or living in cardboard boxes or standing in food lines with the tag "If Obama has his way, I wouldn't be here."

    October 7, 2008 04:08 pm at 4:08 pm |
  22. FactCheck

    The DNC should reply with an ad showing people on unemployment lines, or living in cardboard boxes or standing in food lines with the tag "If Obama has his way, I wouldn't be here."

    October 7, 2008 04:08 pm at 4:08 pm |
  23. AND???? Who Cares, I am losing money

    It's the economy stupid.

    October 7, 2008 04:09 pm at 4:09 pm |
  24. Lynn


    October 7, 2008 04:09 pm at 4:09 pm |
  25. Tired of the Nonsense

    To all you undecideds….

    Over the weekend, John McCain's top adviser announced their plan to stop engaging in a debate over the economy and "turn the page" to more direct, personal attacks on Barack Obama.

    In the middle of the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, they want to change the subject from the central question of this election. Perhaps because the policies McCain supported these past eight years and wants to continue are pretty hard to defend.

    But it's not just McCain's role in the current crisis that they're avoiding. The backward economic philosophy and culture of corruption that helped create the current crisis are looking more and more like the other major financial crisis of our time.

    During the savings and loan crisis of the late '80s and early '90s, McCain's political favors and aggressive support for deregulation put him at the center of the fall of Lincoln Savings and Loan, one of the largest in the country. More than 23,000 investors lost their savings. Overall, the savings and loan crisis required the federal government to bail out the savings of hundreds of thousands of families and ultimately cost American taxpayers $124 billion.

    Sound familiar?


    October 7, 2008 04:09 pm at 4:09 pm |
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