- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 28, 2004

Issue-ad purchases by advocacy groups are closing the campaign-spending gap between Sen. John Kerry and President Bush, according to a report released last week.

The Wisconsin Advertising Project released an analysis of campaign spending over the past month, beginning when Mr. Kerry locked up the Democratic nomination. The report shows that from March 3 to March 22, Mr. Bush far outpaced Mr. Kerry in direct campaign spending, but money spent on issue ads by the MoveOn.org Voter Fund and the Media Fund have kept the Democratic candidate in the game in Pennsylvania, Florida, Arizona, Michigan, Ohio and 13 other battleground states in the 2004 presidential election.

“Even though the Bush campaign is spending a lot of money and outspending the Kerry campaign and allied groups in a lot of states, it still has a significant deficit to make up,” said Ken Goldstein, director of the Advertising Project.

The MoveOn Fund, a liberal advocacy group, and Media Fund, a Democratic-leaning political organization, are registered “527” groups — named for the tax-code section the groups file under with the Internal Revenue Service. But both groups have been attacked in recent months.

Republicans say the groups have violated campaign-finance laws and should be forced to disclose and adhere to federal limits on all contributions. The Federal Election Commission is scheduled to hold a hearing on the matter next month.

The Bush campaign filed a complaint against the Media Fund for its negative ads, and views the groups of having undue influence on the election where there should be none. The Advertising Project’s report shows just how much influence the groups have.

Mr. Bush spent more than $2.2 million on ads in Pennsylvania so far this month and about $1.2 million in Ohio. By comparison, the Kerry campaign spent $235,000 and $210,000, respectively, in the same states.

However, the MoveOn.org Fund spent $525,000 on issues-based and negative Bush commercials in Pennsylvania and $505,000 in Ohio. The Media Fund spent even more on similar advertising in the two states: $1 million in Pennsylvania and $620,000 in Ohio.

Kerry campaign spending, when combined with the two 527 groups, outpaced Mr. Bush in Ohio by about $135,000 and came within $440,000 in Pennsylvania.

The two groups combined will air 4,685 spots in the targeted states throughout the campaign, the report says, mainly focusing on electoral-vote-rich Ohio (20) and Pennsylvania (21).

However, Mr. Goldstein said that Mr. Bush can ill-afford to lose both states in the general election and that the early onslaught by the nine Democratic presidential candidates and the negative ads they ran denouncing the president and his policies during the primary season have given Mr. Kerry a slight advantage.

“The slate was not wiped clean once the Democratic nominee became apparent, and the fact is that Kerry and the other Democratic candidates created a barrage of advertisements critical of Bush, with powerful messages, in many of the most competitive primary states, which also happen to be some of the most important general-election states,” he said.

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