- The Washington Times - Monday, November 3, 2008

After being outspent for months, Republicans poured money into advertising in the final two weeks of the election, in hopes of countering the record fundraising by Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama.

Independent groups that supported Sen. John McCain’s presidential bid by airing ads or canvassing for votes dramatically increased their spending, surpassing the lead that groups supporting Mr. Obama once held.

Between Oct. 19 and Thursday, independent groups spent $33.4 million on advertisements, mailings or canvassing in support of Mr. McCain or against Mr. Obama, while groups that support Mr. Obama or oppose Mr. McCain spent $8.1 million, according to an analysis of records filed at the Federal Election Commission.

The late surge pushes total spending by outside groups into Mr. McCain’s favor. Prior to Oct. 19, groups supporting Mr. Obama had outspent his opponent by about 25 percent. Combined, they have spent $141.2 million this election cycle.

The tally of spending by independent groups only includes those that have to file reports with the FEC and that name a presidential candidate in their ad. It does not include money spent on local races or work on behalf of a party, which is done by groups such as the Republican-leaning Let Freedom Ring or Democratic-leaning Patriot Majority.

An unofficial tally from the Campaign Finance Institute (CFI) found that federally oriented 527 and 501(c) groups - so named for their section in tax codes - have already collected or spent $350 million and are on track to top $400 million. They have spent money on both presidential and local races.

Democratic 527 groups have about a 3-to-1 advantage over Republican 527s, while Republicans favor 501(c) groups, according to CFI.

The spending by Republican groups has helped Mr. McCain’s campaign counter a losing battle against Mr. Obama’s substantially larger war chest. Over the entire campaign, Mr. Obama had raised more than $600 million as of the end of September, while Mr. McCain has $324 million to spend. The Arizona senator raised $240 million for the primary outside the system of public financing but, unlike Mr. Obama, took federal money for the general election, which limits him to the $84 million it provides.

That has enabled the Obama campaign to outspend the McCain campaign by three-to-one in television advertising alone from Oct. 21 to Oct. 28, according to a study released Friday by the Wisconsin Advertising Project, which track political ads.

Mr. Obama’s campaign spent nearly $21.5 million and Mr. McCain spent $7.5 million during that same period.

“The advertising advantage held by the Obama campaign this year puts us in unchartered waters,” said Ken Goldstein, a University of Wisconsin at Madison professor of political science and director of the Wisconsin Advertising Project. “This year, the spending is hugely unequal, and in some cases, the Obama campaign has massive advantages.”

In recent days, the Republican groups have dramatically increased their spending.

The upstart National Republican Trust PAC, for instance, late last week bought $1.2 million in ads highlighting Mr. Obama’s controversial former pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr. It has also run ads that say Mr. Obama wants to give driver’s licenses to illegal immigrants, a claim has been disputed by fact-checking groups.

The Republican spending is led by the Republican National Committee, which had planned to spend nearly $25 million in the last two weeks on advertising in battleground states.

“The most important days of the campaign is the last five, and the second most important is the next-to-last five,” said Brad Todd, whose firm, On Message Inc., is doing independent expenditures for the RNC.

Though he recognizes that outside Republican funding is not going to match Mr. Obama’s fundraising prowess, “It’s our hope that the very clear, really true difference will be easy to understand with less resources,” he said.

Groups supporting Mr. Obama and Democrats haven’t slowed down, either.

Patriot Majority, which is funded by unions, spent $3.4 million last week running television ads critical of Republican senators in tough elections.

The Service Employees International Union Committee on Political Education, which is also supporting Mr. Obama and other Democratic candidates, has spent more than $1 million this week alone, part of an $85 million campaign.

“We’re absolutely intensifying our ground campaign,” said Michelle Ringuette, an SEIU spokeswoman.

In the past 72 hours of the campaign, the group will have over 100,000 union members doing get-out-the-vote work.

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