Initially pushed to the sidelines by the presidential nominees, independent political groups are readying a 24/7 barrage of attack ads designed to influence Americans’ choices at the ballot box in November.
The tax-exempt political groups known as 527s will use negative ads to remind voters about Sen. Barack Obama’s controversial former pastor, and to suggest that Sen. John McCain’s temperament makes him a frightening choice to have his “finger near the red button.”
Both presidential hopefuls once derided these independent groups - named for their section of the tax code and limited to few campaign-finance restrictions - and so they remained mostly dormant for months.
But as the campaign heats up, 527s and other political action committees from across the political spectrum are planning major pushes to influence voters in the final six weeks of the campaign.
“We have to spread the truth about McCain ourselves because it’s clear the corporate media won’t,” reads the description on a YouTube ad from BraveNewPac. In capital letters, it adds, “Now. Fast. Furious. Everywhere.”
The group, an offshoot of liberal filmmaker Robert Greenwald’s Brave New Films, has paid for a television spot featuring a former prisoner of war portraying Mr. McCain as emotionally disturbed. Philip Butler says he knows Mr. McCain and adds that the prisoner of war experience is “not a good prerequisite” for the presidency.
“He was well known as a very volatile guy, and he would blow up and go off like a Roman candle,” says Mr. Butler, who also was imprisoned in Vietnam. “John McCain is not somebody that I would like to see with his finger near the red button.”
Meanwhile, some people involved with the group that damaged Sen. John Kerry’s presidential campaign in 2004 - the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth - have targeted Mr. Obama under the name American Issues Project.
“I don’t think the public cares how you characterize who is making an ad or who is behind it. I think they care about the substance of the ad,” said Ed Martin, a St. Louis lawyer who has long worked on behalf of Republicans.
“Do you really know enough about what this guy is about?” he said of the Illinois Democrat. “What I know about his background is worrisome.”
AIP is not a 527, and Mr. Martin insists it will remain solvent after the Nov. 4 election to continue issue advocacy.
He said the group formed to combat the “hundreds of millions” that left-leaning groups such as NARAL Pro-Choice America and others would inevitably spend on the election, along with Mr. Obama’s decision to opt out of the public financing system that forces campaigns to abide by spending limits.
However, 527s have been less active than during the 2004 election cycle.
AIP has spent nearly $3 million to run one ad questioning Mr. Obama’s past association with William Ayers, a member of the domestic terrorist group the Weather Underground. The Obama campaign ran a response ad to combat the spot in the swing states such as Ohio.
The Ayers ad was financed by a Texas billionaire who also funded the Swift Boat group. Former White House adviser Karl Rove has been encouraging major Republican donors to fund independent groups.