A campaign like no other

"Independents" spend $9.5M on anonymous attacks

LANSING - The nonstop barrage of television advertisements Michigan viewers have seen attacking the policies and administration of President Barack Obama are part of a campaign targeting nine states considered to be potential battlegrounds for the November presidential election: Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Michigan, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Ohio and Virginia.

What is absolutely unique to Michigan is the fact that neither the Obama campaign, nor any committee supporting him, has replied to the ads. The President hasn't bought an ad in Michigan since February during the run-up to Michigan's presidential primary. In every other state targeted by the nonprofit advocacy groups and SuperPACs supporting Mitt Romney, the Obama campaign has replied in kind.

The total spent by the anti-Obama independents in Michigan totals $9.5 million through August 9th.

The Michigan advertising through mid-May was sponsored by a rotating group of clients of the Mentzer Media firm. Four of the groups are nonprofit 501-c-4 advocacy corporations that do not disclose their donors: Americans for Prosperity, American Future Fund, American Energy Alliance and 60 Plus Alliance. The fifth committee was the Pro-Romney SuperPAC, Restore Our Future, which does disclose its donors.

Since mid-May the great majority of the Michigan ad blitz has been sponsored by Crossroads GPS, a nonprofit advocacy corporation founded by Karl Rove that also does not disclose its donors. The $4 million spending spree by Crossroads GPS has been augmented during the past two weeks by a $650,000 ad buy sponsored by the related SuperPAC, American Crossroads, which does disclose its donors, and a return to the air by the pro-Romney SuperPAC, Restore Our Future.

Restore Our Future laid out $528,000 for Olympics-themed ads touting Mr. Romney's role in the 2002 Salt Lake Winter Olympics. They are the only positive ads to run thus far.

It is likely that the nonprofit groups' activity is coming to an end because they will not be able to provide anonymity to their donors for the rest of the election cycle. Any groups running ads within 30 days of a national political party convention, or 60 days of the general election, are required to disclose their donors, even if they are nonprofit corporations, and even if they don't explicitly exhort a vote for, or against, one of the candidates.

The latest Crossroads GPS ads, which run through August 6th, should be subject to the disclosure requirement, but the Federal Election Commission initially mistakenly announced that the disclosure window was to begin on August 7th. The FEC subsequently announced that it will not enforce the disclosure rules until that date because of its error.

"Michigan citizens should know that 80 percent of the presidential ads they've seen over the past five months were sponsored by anonymous donors," said Rich Robinson of the nonpartisan Michigan Campaign Finance Network.

"Political speech without accountability is no celebration of the First Amendment. These ads are the campaign equivalent of a drive-by shooting - an anonymous assault."

Data on Michigan television advertising related to the presidential campaign were compiled by the Michigan Campaign Finance Network from the public files of state broadcasters and cable systems.

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