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Liberal 527 Groups Target McCain With Ads


Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama set another fundraising record in August, with his campaign saying that it raised $66 million — which is $11 million more than the record Obama set in June and $19 million more than Republican nominee John McCain raised last month.

At the same time, however, outside groups are raising their own money to fund hard-hitting ads as the race tightens.

Obama began September with $77 million on hand, according to his campaign, which claims 2.5 million donors. McCain is taking only public funds for the fall campaign — roughly $84 million, which has to last through Election Day.

Both candidates are also raising millions for their national party committees, where Republicans have a strong advantage.

More Independent Ads Hit The Air

But a big unknown is the impact of independent groups — freelancers who raise their own money, often unregulated, and who don't coordinate with the candidate they support.

Both Obama and McCain came out against these independent message groups last spring. But they've been tiptoeing into the arena. And in the past several weeks, the pace has quickened.

Sunday, for instance, a group called Brave New PAC put up an ad on MSNBC and CNN. It features Phillip Butler, a former Navy pilot, Vietnam prisoner of war and contemporary of McCain's at the Naval Academy and in the POW camps.

The ad aims at the core of McCain's image — his reputation as a POW and Vietnam War hero.

"He would blow up and go off like a Roman candle. John McCain is not somebody that I would like to see with his finger near the red button," Butler says in the ad.

Monday afternoon, McCain spokesman Tucker Bounds called the ad "vile" and said it was put out "apparently at the behest" of the Obama campaign.

Hollywood director Robert Greenwald founded Brave New PAC, plus Brave New Films and Brave New Foundation. They occupy different legal slots in a concerted effort to promote progressive issues, mainly through online videos.

Greenwald says online is the cost-effective future of political communication.

"Commercials on television are something you avoid," Greenwald says. "Videos that friends pass to you are something you're much more receptive to."

Earlier, Greenwald's groups produced a video about McCain's multiple homes. That led to press coverage, and when McCain fumbled a reporter's question, it led to a national story. This week, the group released a video calling on McCain to release his medical records.

Prominent on the other side is American Issues Project. Late last month, an ad from AIP leveled charges about Obama's ties to Bill Ayers, an educator who was once a leader of the radical group Weather Underground.

"Some members of the group Ayers founded even went on to kill police," the ad says. "But Barack Obama is friends with Ayers, defending him as respectable and mainstream."

A Texas businessman, Harold Simmons, gave AIP more than $2 million to finance that ad.

Now Ed Martin, president of the board of AIP, says they're organizing for the next attack.

"Senator Obama's campaign is going to have a lot more money, and some of the interest groups that have more liberal ideas and things are going to have a ton of money. But we're not quite ready to say what our next steps will be," he said.

Machinations Of Negative Ads

John Geer of Vanderbilt University studies negative campaigning. He says that the POW ad and whatever AIP comes up with all serve to keep the campaign in the news.

"My biggest worry about these ads is that they suddenly catch the attention of mainstream news outlets, and then they get aired to the entire public again and again and again," he said.

He says independent groups have discovered they get a lot more free media play from going negative than from anything they say that's positive.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Corrected: October 14, 2008 at 12:04 PM MDT
The story incorrectly said that the $66 million Obama raised in August was $9 million more than McCain raised. It was actually $19 million more than the $47 million raised by the McCain campaign.
Peter Overby has covered Washington power, money, and influence since a foresighted NPR editor created the beat in 1994.

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