Crossroads’ ad takes sides, says watchdog

Complains content disguised by group

A government watchdog group has filed a complaint with the Federal Election Commission against Crossroads GPS, the conservative advocacy group affiliated with the super PAC American Crossroads, over an ad the organization is running on several U.S. Senate candidates, including Virginia Democrat Tim Kaine.

The complaint alleges that the ads advocate for or against a specific candidate, and therefore must be reported to the FEC. Crossroads, which was founded in part by senior GOP political strategist Karl Rove, maintains that its spots are apolitical “issue” ads, and therefore do not need to be reported.

Melanie Sloan, executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), said that Crossroads “wants to have its cake and eat it too.”

“By disguising political ads as issue ads, Crossroads is trying to do an end run around the law,” she said.

The 30-second spot in Virginia, part of a $2.5 million ad buy that includes Ohio and North Dakota, identifies Mr. Kaine, a former governor who is also the former chairman of the Democratic National Committee, as “a cheerleader for massive spending,” while showing video clips of him complimenting President Obama’s $800 billion-plus economic stimulus package.

“Tell Tim Kaine for real job growth, stop backing reckless spending,” the narrator says toward the end.

The complaint argues that the ad campaign should be considered an “independent expenditure” that Crossroads did not report to the FEC.

Mr. Kaine has not held public office in more than two years, and currently has no role in making public policy,” the CREW complaint reads. “In this context, telling Mr. Kaine to stop backing reckless spending can only be construed as telling him what his policies should be if he is elected to the Senate. In addition, the advertisement provided no contact information, demonstrating that the ad’s actual intent was not to encourage viewers to tell Mr. Kaine anything. The advertisement’s only reasonable interpretation, therefore, is to encourage actions to defeat Mr. Kaine, and its electoral portion is unmistakable, unambiguous, and suggestive of only one meaning.”

The challenge comes as the line between electioneering, advocacy, and public welfare are becoming increasingly blurry.

A conservative group and a candidate for the Indiana House of Representatives want to link political action committees, which can accept up to $5,0000 per person; super PACs like American Crossroads, which can accept unlimited contributions; and nonprofit groups like Crossroads GPS, which qualify as “social welfare” groups under the tax code and can shield the source of some of their money.

There is currently a ban on “coordination” between candidates and independent groups that support them, which was the foundation for the Supreme Court’s campaign finance decision that the new groups would not corrupt the political process.

“Obviously, these candidates can’t vote to repeal the Affordable Care Act or decrease the budget deficit,” Ms. Sloan said. “Pretending these ads are not political makes a mockery of federal election and tax law.”

A new nonpartisan group called “unPAC” also launched a push this week to get NBC to refuse to broadcast ads from super PACs and special-interest groups during the Olympics.

Earlier this month, Restore Our Future, a super PAC supporting Mitt Romney, bought more than $7 million in ads to air specifically during the London Olympics. The group noted that networks have previously established a “no advocacy ads” policies during major sporting events; NBC, citing such a policy, refused to air advocacy ads during the 2009 Super Bowl.

“Super PACs are the political equivalent to juicing,” said unPAC.org Campaigns Director Matthew Palevsky. “They’re already corrupting our elections, and NBC shouldn’t let them ruin the Olympics.”

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