An independent group favoring Republican presidential rival Mitt Romney is launching a $25 million, monthlong advertising campaign in 10 states against President Barack Obama, further escalating an expensive TV ad war in presidential battlegrounds six months before Election Day.
Crossroads GPS plans to open the effort Thursday by spending $8 million on a TV ad that castigates Obama on the economy by using his own words against him.
"We need solutions, not just promises," says a 60-second commercial that's to run in Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Michigan, North Carolina, New Hampshire, Nevada, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Virginia.
It shows clips of Obama making pledges that critics say he hasn't kept on issues like taxes, health care and federal deficits.
"We must help the millions of homeowners who are facing foreclosure," Obama says in a clip from June 2008. The ad then says: "Promise broken. One in five mortgages are still under water."
Obama, Romney and their allies are in a rush to define each other negatively in voters' eyes before Americans tune out during the summer. And already both sides are going for the jugular, a sign of a sharply negative race between now and November.
Crossroads GPS' ad push is the latest to illustrate the degree to which this presidential campaign is playing out under dramatically looser campaign finance laws in the wake of a series of Supreme Court decisions that allowed independent groups to raise and spend unlimited donations as long as they don't coordinate directly with the campaigns they support.
It also comes at a time when several other Republican-leaning super PACs have been spending millions on ads in key states to tear down Obama while Romney — the underfunded challenger to the record-shattering Democratic president — focuses on raising money after a primary season that left him broke and battered.
The super PAC Restore Our Future, staffed with former Romney aides, has spent $4.3 million, while Americans for Prosperity, the Koch brothers' group, has spent $5 million. The American Future Fund, whose goal is to promote conservative and free-market ideas, is spending an additional $4.7 million to run a one-minute ad suggesting Obama hasn't cracked down on Wall Street because of his campaign's fundraising. "Tell Obama to stop protecting his Wall Street donors," the ad says.
On the Democratic side, Obama's campaign has launched its own $25 million, month-long ad push in the most competitive general election states. In recent days, it's started going after Romney's business credentials, specifically his time at the helm of the private equity firm Bain Capital. The campaign was running an ad Wednesday on the matter but in just a handful of states and at a very low price tag, just under $100,000.
But the real money to promote the same message was coming from a pro-Obama super PAC, Priorities USA Action. It's spending $4 million to air its new ad, which is remarkably similar to the one from the Obama campaign. Both highlight the failure of GST Steel, a Kansas City, Mo.-based company purchased by Bain Capital that went bankrupt and laid off 750 workers in 2001.
Unlike the groups on the right, Priorities USA Action has struggled to raise money, taking in about $10 million through its super PAC and affiliated nonprofit arm by the end of March. The group has spent only $2.7 million on ads in May.
Still, Obama's campaign opened the month of April with more than $100 million in the bank, a 10-to-1 fundraising advantage over Romney.
But the president's edge is minimized by the campaign cash raised by Republican-leaning super PACs.
Crossroads GPS told the IRS it raised more than $77 million through December. Donors could include individuals, businesses or trade groups. Without naming names, Crossroads reported two gifts of $10 million each and four of more than $4 million.
American Crossroads, its ally, has raised $100 million so far this election cycle to defeat Obama and support the Republican nominee. Combined, the Crossroads twins have announced plans to spend as much as $300 million to influence the presidential election, with longtime George W. Bush political adviser Karl Rove guiding them.
While the Republican groups legally can't coordinate directly with the Romney campaign, they do coordinate with each other. Leaders of some leading Republican super PACs attend a monthly meeting hosted by Crossroads to share information and devise strategy to deny Obama a second term. That may mean, for example, taking turns ensuring Romney has a presence on the air — or, rather, the Republican criticisms against Obama are aired — even if his campaign itself can't afford to run its own ads yet.
The Romney campaign has spent no money on TV ads since Romney's Republican opponents dropped out and cleared his path to the nomination.
Republicans have generally welcomed the emergence of super PACs, and several GOP-leaning groups spent millions to take control of the House and pick up six Senate seats in 2010. Obama sharply criticized the emergence of super PACs that year but ultimately green-lighted contributions to Priorities USA Action after it became clear that his campaign and other Democrats would be vastly outgunned otherwise.
By law, campaigns and the outside groups are forbidden from working with each other. But at times like this, the lines of separation seem blurred if not crossed.
Strategists for the super PACs insist they are operating independently and are not relying on signals from the presidential campaigns as to what advertising strategy to pursue. But campaign finance watchdogs are crying foul, arguing that super PACs have effectively become high-dollar shadow campaign operations for candidates otherwise constrained by much stricter federal campaign finance rules.
"Candidate-specific super PACs are simply arms of the presidential campaigns and need to be treated as such and be subject to contribution limits," said Fred Wertheimer of Democracy 21, a campaign finance reform advocacy group. "The idea that these groups are independent is a fiction in reality terms and, we believe, a fiction in legal terms."
Associated Press writers Beth Fouhy in New York and Ken Thomas in Washington contributed to this report.
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