Campaign Finance

Issue ads make comeback

Rachael Marcus Sep 26, 2012

Americans for Prosperity, a conservative nonprofit funded by the billionaire Koch brothers, launched a new issue advocacy campaign criticizing President Barack Obama Monday.

The organization reported spending $205,000 on radio ads highlighting what the group calls Obama’s “failing agenda.”

The buy will ramp up to $1.3 million, according a press release, with radio ads and calls to voters targeting 13 states. The campaign is coupled with a national bus tour.

Issue ads can name a candidate but do not expressly advocate a yes or no vote. They must be reported to the Federal Election Commission as “electioneering communications” if, as with the new Americans for Prosperity spots, they come within 60 days of a general election.

Issue advertising all but disappeared when a federal district court required donors to the campaigns be identified. An appeals court, however, recently suspended that decision. Issue ads, unlike “express advocacy” ads can be interpreted as educational and not subject to IRS limits on political activity.

Americans for Prosperity, known for being financed by the billionaire industrialist brothers Charles and David Koch, is one of the top outside spenders in the election.

It has spent $30.9 million on independent expenditures, the kind of ads that urge a yes or no vote, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. The entire sum has been spent opposing Obama, but Americans for Prosperity has spent unreported millions more on U.S. congressional races.

The appeals court decision means Americans for Prosperity, and other politically active nonprofits like the U.S. Chamber of CommerceAmerican Action Network and American Future Fund, may return to anonymously funded “educational” issue ads, most of which nonetheless make a clear political statement.

In other outside spending news:

  • AFSCME PEOPLE, a political action committee of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, released “The Man” opposing Rep. Dan Lungren, R-Calif. and “Struggling,” opposing Rep. Dan Benishek, R-Mich. “Funder,” from AFSCME directly, opposes Rep. Chip Cravaack, R-Minn. The PAC also reported spending $263,000 on canvassing expenses in opposition to Republican Rep. Nan Hayworth in New York’s 19th District.
  • Conservative super PAC American Crossroads released “Where,” opposing Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., at a cost of $1.6 million.
  • Its sister nonprofit Crossroads GPS spent $2.8 million opposing Democratic U.S. Senate candidates Rep. Joe Donnelly of Indiana, Rep. Shelley Berkley of Nevada, Sen. Sherrod Brown of Ohio, Sen. Bill Nelson of Florida, and former Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine. It also paid for media opposing Rep. Tim Bishop of New York, who is running for re-election to the U.S. House.
  • SEIU COPE, the PAC of the Service Employees International Union, released “$6,400,” which opposes Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, for supporting Rep. Paul Ryan’s Medicare plan.
  • The super PAC Planned Parenthood Votes released “Cynthia’s Story,” in which a woman tells how her checkup at a Planned Parenthood clinic detected her cancer. The ad opposes GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney, who has suggested cutting federal funding to the program.
  • The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee released two ads on Tuesday opposing North Dakota Rep. Rick Berg, who is running for Senate, which come on the heels of anti-Berg ad “No Change,” as the Daily Disclosure reported Monday.
  • Conservative nonprofit Americans for Limited Government posted three web videos, one criticizing Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., for a “lifestyle of the tax and spenders,” another calling former Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine’s leadership style “chiKAINEry,” and the third tracking Sen. Jon Tester’s evolution from “innocent farmer to beltway bandit.”
  • Conservative super PAC YG Action Fund released “Jet Set Mike,” which criticizes Rep. Mike McIntyre, D-N.C., for his world travels while in office.
  • Now Hiring” from House Majority PAC opposes Chris Collins, the Republican candidate for U.S. House in New York’s 27th District.

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