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. FactCheck

    Will not vote for the Osama/binladen ticket it like putting the dictator of Iran has the president of the U.S.


    And maybe you can one day go to school and learn how to speak them thar' english.

    October 7, 2008 04:09 pm at 4:09 pm |
  2. Lynn: 60 yr old white Obama supporter

    The MSM continually running the inaccurate, hate filled speeches is a dangerous course to take. You give credence to lies and smears that you have fact checked as FALSE. You overlook the checkered history of the woman making them. There is a difference between freedom of speech and slander, libel and inciting hatred.

    Your continual hand wringing about the ugliness of this campaign should give you pause to look in the mirror and see the contributors to this course of events. Time to put country before ratings and get a backbone!

    If anything should happen to Senator Obama, his family or supporters you will be culpible. Your complete SILENCE on the heckling, ugliness and threats being shouted out is reprehensible.

    October 7, 2008 04:10 pm at 4:10 pm |
  3. REP turned DEM for 2008

    …if "Obama had his way, I wouldn't be here," says Gianna Jessen in the new spot.


    October 7, 2008 04:10 pm at 4:10 pm |
  4. Deb

    This woman who is bringing such dissention on the scene at her campaigns should be trusted to lead our country if something should happen to McCain? America look around you...she is definitely not the answer. Tainopower - people like you would support McCain and Palin. God help us if there are more people like you out there and voting.

    October 7, 2008 04:11 pm at 4:11 pm |
  5. Roofin Reality, Houston, Tx.

    Undecided from 3:41, Senator McCain has enjoyed the spoils of Socialism by way of Social Security. With his (wife's) wealth, you'd think he would've taken a principles stand and sent the money back.

    Rick from 3:22, know the facts. Hagel, whose wife endorsed Obama today, wrote the Fannie Mae bill in January 2005 and it was co-sponsored by Sununu and Dole.
    McCain got on board 16 months later (May 2006). But here's the kicker – it was the REPUBLICANS who controlled the Senate and therefore let the bill die. It wasn't the Dems. Sorry about that.

    I wish the ads (which seems more for Team Obama than Team McCain) would just tell the truth with no spin, no nuance, no lies. But, I in that case, live in a fairytale world.
    Rock the vote people!!

    October 7, 2008 04:11 pm at 4:11 pm |
  6. Peter (CA)


    Don't know which liberals you know but the ones I know are highly educated people who give back to their community and who work hard at their job to make the community better for everyone, not just those who are happy to take from the system and complain about having to put their fair share in.

    And enough with the socialism tripe. That is right wing code for "why can't our capitalists rape the system and get rich at the same time?"
    Obama's plans are a small change in order to get this country moving forward. Have you been paying attention to what is going on in this country? Our infrastructure is crumbling. Our schools are falling apart. The environment is going downhill again after years of improvement. Taking care of all of these problems takes money. That is why we have taxes. You should not get a free ride if you live in this country (and it is time to make sure that everyone pitches in).


    Is there any point since you have made your mind up? Have you been paying attention? Do you go to websites and look for information?
    I do and I made a decision to support Obama.

    I am not concerned about George Soros. I am concerned about the Palin supporters shouting racial epitephs at black members of a news crew.

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

    Nuff said, The ballot decision on Nov 5th will tell it all. Keep ranting away. Americans wake up

    October 7, 2008 04:14 pm at 4:14 pm |
  8. Ratemo

    Despicable......some maturity at this critical time is important

    October 7, 2008 04:15 pm at 4:15 pm |
  9. Maxine

    William Ayers is the one that had something to do with the bombeding situation NOT OBAMA REPEAT OBAMA WAS 8 YEARS OLD. and just because Obama came incontact with Ayers after many,many year when this Ayers person had clean up his life don'nt make Obama responsible for this man behavior. Republicans please give us a break!!! and if you Republicans want to hold Obama responsible Let us hold John Mccain responsible for which Mccain was on trial for this Big FINANCIAL CRISIS WITH THE BANKS AND THE AMERICAN PEOPLE TAX DOLLARS!!!! THE "KEANTING FIVE" Mccain was one of the Keanting five CORRUPTION!!!!!!

    October 7, 2008 04:15 pm at 4:15 pm |
  10. jp

    I would like to know why Obama does not have to give the GOP all the books as to where he gets his funding for the campaign? tERRORIST INVOLVED? Go ahead and vote for Obama, but when you get tired of the terrorism and you make no mistake there will be with his presidency, since he is around about way involved one way or another with terrorist. He will not pledge to HIS flag, HE will not salute the military, his wife stated that "This is the first time she was ever proud of her country"!, He WAS involved in the Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae problems,(that will come out with these hearings and already did on CSPAN today). When you get tired of the Government telling you when and where to wipe. (Socialism) You will wish that you had not have fallen for his HOLLYWOOD tactics. And I predict that before 1 year into his term each and every one of you that voted for BARACK HUSSAIN OBAMA will regret your decision. This Country is headed each and every day closer to SOCIALISM. I dont know about you but I have had 55 years of freedom and dont intend to live without my FREEDOM.

    October 7, 2008 04:15 pm at 4:15 pm |
  11. Annie, Atlanta

    @Undecided. Who died and put you in charge of describing what Liberal means? I'm a liberal. I'm open minded. I respect your opinion (it's you who doesn't respect mine). I believe in checking facts, not taking someone's word as fact (intellect). I would not take a free handout, it's not in my makeup. By socialism, do you mean the bill the president signed last week; our biggest welfare payment to the rich, ever? Please. One track and narrow minded? I think you're talking about you.

    October 7, 2008 04:16 pm at 4:16 pm |
  12. tonyP

    i think its shameful the way Obama and his party fools in the media are playing up and creating this panic in the markets just to get him elected. any one how isn't a young and dumb democrats knows that this slide isn't near as bad (percentage wise) as others we've had in the past. in those cases we didn't need to throw the baby (free markets) out with the bath water like we have now and use this as an excuse to impose more restrictions on personal freedom. you thought the patriot act was bad wait till the government starts using imposed economic restrictions to control what we can eat how much gas we can buy and where we can move to.

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

    They all should be banned,,,the 527's....they serve no purpose.

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


    October 7, 2008 04:17 pm at 4:17 pm |
  15. Republican Base Voting OBAMA

    Obama/Biden 08/12

    October 7, 2008 04:18 pm at 4:18 pm |
  16. BM

    McCain and Palin seem to be exciting their supporters the wrong way.When supporters are yelling out"kill him" and "terroist" is frightening!

    October 7, 2008 04:18 pm at 4:18 pm |
  17. BM

    I'm sorry but McCain/Palin are doing nothing to unite the country. It appears that they have the mentality of divide and conquer.

    October 7, 2008 04:22 pm at 4:22 pm |
  18. ber6964

    Tainopower voting for McCain is having your face rubbed in the same shiiit you've been smelling for the last 8 years..

    October 7, 2008 04:23 pm at 4:23 pm |
  19. GA for Obama

    TANIOPOWER- and ppl hate America because of scum like you

    October 7, 2008 04:25 pm at 4:25 pm |
  20. Renee

    Mccain/Palin camp is now inciting people to scream "KILL HIM" and TERRORIST" Do we want leaders like that to encourage people to HATE AND TO KILL OTHERS? Palin is NOT A CHRISTIAN because ly Christians bring people together and show love and clearly Mccain/Palin is teaching thier supporters to hate and kill!! American people vote NO to Mccain/Palin please!!!

    October 7, 2008 04:26 pm at 4:26 pm |
  21. Julianne

    These are typically right leaning – I don't pay attention because truth and accuracy are not even serious considerations.

    Just more rabid irrational attempts from the right. No thanks, I've stopped paying attention to that kind of nonsense.

    October 7, 2008 04:27 pm at 4:27 pm |
  22. mitch

    tainopower is a misled individual and cnn should not be posting 'it's' biggoted comments.

    October 7, 2008 04:28 pm at 4:28 pm |
  23. The Bu

    We are really some ignorant people, aren't we? The age of fear is over for the Republicans. The sad thing is some of you call yourselves Christians!!! That is what baffles me. Speaking as a Christian, myself, I thought we were to show love. That is far from what we have shown as a people of faith and as a country. I'll be glad when this election is all over.

    October 7, 2008 04:28 pm at 4:28 pm |
  24. John Hussein OBAMA

    I wonder, what kind of favors these groups will ask for if their candidate wins? Things that make you go HMMM....

    October 7, 2008 04:29 pm at 4:29 pm |
  25. JB

    undecided October 7th, 2008 3:41 pm ET

    To — Kelby from Houston, TX

    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.


    Sean Hannity...is that you? This is just a vomit of all the mainstream rightie talking points. do you even have a clue how uniformed and ridiculous you appear parrotting this nonsense. There really is one born every minute – you're living proof. Oooo, you even got the John McCain anger down pat too! Nice job stoolie

    October 7, 2008 04:30 pm at 4:30 pm |
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