The political arm of MoveOn.org is spending far more money attacking Republicans than on behalf of the Democrats it supports, campaign filings show.
Since last year, Federal Election Commission (FEC) filings show the group has spent nearly 90 percent of more than $3 million in so-called independent expenditures to target a dozen Republican candidates, including presidential aspirants Rudolph W. Giuliani, a former mayor of New York City, and Arizona Sen. John McCain.
“The political and practical reality is that negative ads work, and they work better than positive ads,” said Kenneth A. Gross, former associate general counsel for the FEC.
“That’s particularly true of an independent group because candidates themselves don’t want to be running negative ads if they can avoid it,” Mr. Gross said. “They’d rather be taking the high road, and the independent groups can hit a little harder”
MoveOn’s negative campaigning prompted criticism from Republicans and some Democrats after a recent ad in the New York Times called Gen. David H. Petraeus, the commander of U.S. forces in Iraq, “General Betray Us.”
According to FEC records, MoveOn has spent less than $400,000 in independent expenditures supporting approximately 60 Democratic office seekers since last year. But during the same period, the group spent about $2.7 million against Republicans.
The law defines independent expenditures as money spent expressly for or against a candidate, but not in concert with the office seekers or their campaigns.
In one race last year, MoveOn, which did not return messages, spent more than a half-million dollars in independent expenditures against Rep. Thelma Drake, Virginia Republican. But the group spent less than $10,000 supporting her unsuccessful Democratic challenger.
In another contest, MoveOn spent more than $440,000 against then-Rep. Nancy L. Johnson, Connecticut Republican, including ads that also targeted Republican incumbents in other contests. The group gave her successful Democratic challenger, Christopher S. Murphy, $3,507.
“Research showed the ad made a significant impact in those races,” MoveOn said in a press release announcing the ad launch.
Most of the money targeting Republicans occurred in races where incumbents were viewed as vulnerable.
“They’re going into races they think they can win,” said Stephen Weissman, associate director of policy at the nonpartisan Campaign Finance Institute, a nonprofit group based in the District. “They’re spending how they think they could best be effective.”
But MoveOn isn’t the only independent group to spend funds against candidates, filings show.
Congressional campaign committees for Democrats and Republicans spent hundreds of thousands of dollars against candidates in several key congressional races last year.
The political action committee for the pro-Republican Citizens Club for Growth this year has reported spending more than $120,000 against Kansas state Treasurer Lynn Jenkins, a Republican who is running for a congressional seat. The PAC considers her a “tax hiker.” It spent more than $1.5 million against various candidates since last year, including several Republicans.
Records show MoveOn is starting to spend money against Republicans in the presidential race, including more than $100,000 against Mr. McCain. On Monday, the group reported to the FEC that it spent another $84,000 against Mr. Giuliani.
The strategy of running negative ads by independent groups such as MoveOn can backfire at times, Mr. Gross said.
“I’ve seen candidates who are supposed to be getting helped shudder at some of the outside ads,” he said.
Campaign filings show MoveOn.org independent expenditures are used more often to target Republicans than to support Democrats.
Top 3 candidates opposing
Thelma Drake (R-VA)$592,000Won
Nancy L. Johnson (R-CT)$444,000Lost
Deborah Pryce (R-OH)$417,000Won
Top 3 candidates supporting
Gwen Moore (D-WI)$43,000Won
Francine Busby (D-CA) $37,000Lost
* Sherrod Brown (D-OH) $25,000Won
* Mr. Brown won a Senate seat; the others were running in House races.
Source: Federal Election Commission