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Context of 'June 20, 2012: Analysis: 85% of Campaign Ads by ‘Third-Party’ Groups Contain Deceptive Content'

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Americans for Prosperity logo.Americans for Prosperity logo. [Source: Americans for Prosperity]After the 2004 presidential election, the “astroturf” organization Citizens for a Sound Economy (see Late 2004) splits due to internal dissension. Oil billionaire David Koch and Koch Industries lobbyist Richard Fink (see August 30, 2010) launch a new “astroturf” organization, Americans for Prosperity (AFP—see May 29, 2009)). They hire Tim Phillips to run the organization. Phillips (see August 6, 2009) is a veteran political operative who worked closely with Republican operative Ralph Reed; the two co-founded the political consulting firm Century Strategies. Phillips’s online biography will describe him as an expert in “grasstops” and “grassroots” political organizing. Conservative operative Grover Norquist will call Phillips “a grownup who can make things happen.” In 2009, Phillips will claim that AFP has “only” 800,000 members, but its Web site will claim “1.2 million activists.” A former employee of the Cato Institute, a Koch-founded libertarian think tank, will say that AFP is “micromanaged by the Kochs” (indicating involvement by both David and Charles Koch). [New Yorker, 8/30/2010]

Entity Tags: David Koch, Cato Institute, Americans for Prosperity, Century Strategies, Citizens for a Sound Economy, Koch Industries, Charles Koch, Tim Phillips, Ralph Reed, Richard Fink, Grover Norquist

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda

Progressive news and advocacy Web site Think Progress profiles Tim Phillips, the president of Americans for Prosperity (AFP), the conservative Washington lobbying organization that is planning to coordinate anti-tax “tea party” protests (see April 8, 2009 and April 15, 2009) with a summer push against the White House’s health care reform proposals. AFP is largely funded by Koch Industries, the largest private oil corporation in the US; AFP has long advocated positions favorable to the energy and health care industries. AFP also uses the technique of “astroturfing,” the creation of ostensibly citizen-driven “grassroots” advocacy groups that are actually funded and driven by corporate and lobbying interests. AFP’s most recent creation is a “front group” called “Patients United Now” (PUN), a group explicitly designed to thwart health care reform. PUN’s Web site declares, “We are people just like you,” and actively solicits participation and donations from ordinary Americans without revealing its corporate roots. AFP employs close to 70 Republican operatives and former oil industry officials.
Other 'Astroturf' Campaigns - Think Progress notes that other AFP “Astroturf” groups have organized events such as the “Hot Air Tour” attacking environmental regulation, the “Free Our Energy” movement to promote domestic oil drilling, the “Save My Ballot Tour” which sent conservative activist “Joe the Plumber” (see October 10, 2008) around the country attacking the Employee Free Choice Act, the “No Climate Tax” group aimed at defeating the Clean Energy Economy legislation, and the “No Stimulus” organization, which opposes the Obama administration’s economic policies.
Headed by Former Abramoff Colleague - AFP’s president is Tim Phillips, a veteran conservative lobbyist and “astroturfer.” In 1997, Phillips, then a Republican campaign strategist, joined Christian conservative activists in a new lobbying firm, Century Strategies. The firm promised to mount “grassroots lobbying drives” and explained its strategy as “it matters less who has the best arguments and more who gets heard—and by whom.” Century Strategies was given a boost by Texas GOP political operative Karl Rove, and began its career representing the Texas oil giant Enron. The firm was paid $380,000 to mobilize “religious leaders and pro-family groups” to push energy deregulation on the federal and state level, an effort which helped lead, says Think Progress, “to the energy crisis and economic meltdown of 2001.” As part of their efforts, Phillips and his partner, former Christian Coalition official Ralph Reed, used their congressional connections and “placed” purported “news” articles in the New York Times and other prominent newspapers. Phillips managed the firm’s direct mail subsidiary, Millennium Marketing, which was hired by then-GOP lobbyist Jack Abramoff to pressure members of Congress to oppose federal wage and worker safety legislation. Phillips and Reed also worked with Abramoff in the lobbyists’ efforts to fraudulently charge Native American tribes millions of dollars in lobbying fees over their efforts to build casinos on tribal lands. And they helped Abramoff launder gambling money. Phillips and Reed are responsible for the ads that helped Republicans win election victories by comparing Democratic candidates to Osama bin Laden, and helped George W. Bush (R-TX) defeat Senator John McCain (R-AZ) in 2000 by accusing McCain of fathering an illegitimate black child. They were unsuccessful in preventing the 2000 election of Republican Eric Cantor (R-VA) to the House by attacking his Jewish heritage. [Think Progress, 5/29/2009]
Headed by Oil Billionaire, Republican Party Funder - MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow will later note that AFP’s director is Art Pope, a multi-millionaire who has given so much money to the North Carolina Republican Party that it named its headquarters after him. The national chairman of AFP is David Koch, who with his brother runs Koch Industries, the largest privately held oil company in the US and a longtime supporter of right-wing causes. Koch is the 19th richest man in the world. [MSNBC, 8/6/2009]

Entity Tags: Tim Phillips, Think Progress (.org), Ralph Reed, Patients United Now, Millennium Marketing, Century Strategies, David Koch, Art Pope, Koch Industries, Americans for Prosperity, Jack Abramoff

Timeline Tags: US Health Care, Domestic Propaganda, 2010 Elections

Oil billionaire David Koch (see August 30, 2010), the founder of “astroturf” advocacy organization Americans for Prosperity (AFP—see Late 2004, October 2008, and August 6, 2009), makes a rare public appearance at an AFP gathering designed to celebrate the organization’s victories against Obama administration policies (see January 2009 and After). President Obama’s poll numbers are declining, and to a man, Republican senators are refusing to cooperate with the White House or with Congressional Democrats on any issues. Political pundits are labeling Obama “inept,” and “tea party” groups are accusing him of initiating “a government takeover.” Koch praises the AFP members at the event, saying: “Days like today bring to reality the vision of our board of directors when we started this organization, five years ago.… We envisioned a mass movement, a state-based one, but national in scope, of hundreds of thousands of American citizens from all walks of life standing up and fighting for the economic freedoms that made our nation the most prosperous society in history.… Thankfully, the stirrings from California to Virginia, and from Texas to Michigan, show that more and more of our fellow-citizens are beginning to see the same truths as we do.” [New Yorker, 8/30/2010]

Entity Tags: Americans for Prosperity, Obama administration, David Koch, Barack Obama

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda

American Future Fund logo.American Future Fund logo. [Source: American Future Fund / Talking Points Memo]Three citizen watchdog and pro-campaign finance groups, the Center for Media and Democracy, Protect Our Elections, and Public Citizen, allege that the tax-exempt nonprofit group American Future Fund (AFF) is violating tax law by operating primarily as a political advocacy group. AFF was founded and is operated by Nick Ryan, a former campaign advisor for former Senator Rick Santorum (R-PA) and former Representative Jim Nussle (R-IA), and the head of a political consulting firm, the Concordia Group. Ryan also founded a pro-Santorum “super PAC” called the Red, White and Blue Fund. State Senator Sandra Greiner (R-IA) and prominent Iowa Republican Allison Dorr Kleis serve as the organization’s directors. The group states that it advocates for “conservative and free market ideals.” The New York Times will later confirm that Bruce Rastetter, co-founder and CEO of Hawkeye Energy Holdings, a large ethanol company, provided the seed money for AFF in 2008. Investigations by the Center for Public Integrity will also show that the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA) contributed $300,000 to the organization in 2010. The group also received $2.44 million from another 501(c)4 group, the American Justice Partnership, which advocates for “tort reform,” and over $11 million from the Center to Protect Patients’ Rights, another 501(c)(4) organization. The Times will find that AFF-supported candidates win 76 percent of the time, making the group “one of the most effective outside spending groups of the 2010 election cycle.” The law allows 501(c)4 groups (see 2000 - 2005) such as AFF to operate without taxation or legal scrutiny as long as they spend the bulk of their resources on “further[ing] the common good and general welfare of the people of the community” and not political advocacy. Moreover, federal election law provides that if a group’s major purpose is electioneering and it spends at least $1,000 to influence elections, it must register as a political action committee (PAC). A New York Times analysis recently showed that AFF spent 56 percent of its television budget on political advertising, and so far has spent $8.8 million on television ad buys. Its ads attack Democratic candidates in Indiana, Iowa, New Mexico, and West Virginia, and expressly tell voters to cast their ballots against these candidates. And the organization’s Web site says it exists to “target… liberal politicians.” The group says it plans to spend as much as $25 million on the 2010 elections. In a press release, Public Citizen says that AFF, “a conservative nonprofit group pouring money into the 2010 midterm elections, appears to be violating campaign finance law.” The three groups file a complaint with the Federal Election Commission (FEC) asking it to decide whether AFF has violated the tax code. If so, AFF would be forced to re-register as a PAC and be subjected to more disclosure requirements, particular who donates to the organization and how much they donate. Craig Holman of Public Citizen says: “American Future Fund is pulling out the stops to ensure that Republicans are elected this November. That imposes on the group the legal duty to register with the FEC and disclose exactly who is funding all those expenditures.” Protect Our Elections spokesperson Kevin Zeese says: “In this first post-Citizens United (see January 21, 2010) election, corporations and their executives are testing the limits of the law and crossing over into illegality. They cross the line when they use nonprofit groups to urge people to vote ‘for’ or ‘against’ a specific candidate. Political committees violate the law when they accept anonymous contributions for their work. These violations of federal election and tax laws need to be challenged now; otherwise we will see even more anonymous corporate donations trying to illegally manipulate voters into voting against their own interests in future elections.” And Lisa Graves of the Center for Media and Democracy says: “Groups spending millions to attack Americans running for office should not be able to use their tax-free status to hide the truth about which fat cats are behind their ads. Voters have a right to know which corporations or millionaires are laundering their profits through nonprofits like the American Future Fund, whose main business seems to be electioneering. We have joined this complaint to demand that the law be enforced and the truth be told.” [Center for Media and Democracy, Protect Our Elections, and Public Citizen, 10/12/2010 pdf file; Public Citizen, 10/20/2010; Mother Jones, 1/28/2011; iWatch News, 6/21/2012] AFF will continue to operate as a 501(c)4 group in spite of the FEC complaint, and will continue to spend heavily on anti-Democratic ads, many of which will be proven to be false by organizations such as FactCheck (.org). More complaints will be filed against the organization, including a February 2011 IRS complaint by Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW). [iWatch News, 6/21/2012]

Entity Tags: Center to Protect Patients’ Rights, Red, White and Blue Fund, Center for Public Integrity, Bruce Rastetter, American Justice Partnership, American Future Fund, Allison Dorr Kleis, Public Citizen, Protect Our Elections, Sandra Greiner, Nick Ryan, Federal Election Commission, Kevin Zeese, Craig Holman, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, Concordia Group, Center for Media and Democracy, Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, New York Times, Lisa Graves

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

A screenshot from an ad attacking Mitt Romney, sponsored by a super PAC on behalf of Newt Gingrich.A screenshot from an ad attacking Mitt Romney, sponsored by a super PAC on behalf of Newt Gingrich. [Source: Think Progress]The Wesleyan Media Project (WMP), a nonpartisan political analysis group working out of Connecticut’s Wesleyan University, finds that negative political advertising has become the mainstay of political broadcast advertising in the 2012 presidential campaign. Only about 8 percent of ads in the 2008 presidential campaign could be considered negative, the WMP writes, but in 2012, 70 percent of ads are negative. (The WMP defines negative as “mentioning an opponent.”) Erika Franklin Fowler, the WMP’s co-director, says: “One reason the campaign has been so negative is the skyrocketing involvement of interest groups, who have increased their activity by 1,100 percent over four years ago. But we cannot attribute the negativity solely to outside groups. Even the candidates’ own campaigns have taken a dramatic negative turn.” Interest-group advertising, i.e. ads financed by “independent” third-party organizations that support one candidate or another, were 75 percent positive in 2008, but only 14 percent positive in 2012. In 2008, ads financed directly by candidate campaigns were 9 percent negative, but this year are 53 percent negative.
Huge Spike in Third-Party Advertising from 2008 - Almost two-thirds of the ads aired in 2012 are paid for by “third party” organizations such as super PACs and “nonprofit” groups. Super PACs alone have financed 60 percent of the ads during this cycle; that figure for 2008 was 8 percent. The WMP writes: “An estimated $112M [million] has been spent to date on 207,000 ads compared to $190M spent on just under 300,000 ads in 2008. Much of this decline in spending and ad volume is due to the lack of a nomination contest on the Democratic side this year.” The project refers to the Republican presidential primary, which is featuring massive spending on behalf of candidates by third-party organizations. “Such levels of outside group involvement in a presidential primary campaign are unprecedented,” according to co-director Travis Ridout. “This is truly historic. To see 60 percent of all ads in the race to-date sponsored by non-candidates is eye-popping.” One of the most prominent organizations, the nonprofit Crossroads GPS (see April 13-20, 2012), has already aired some 17,000 ads, mostly attacking President Obama. Those ads are joined by commercials paid for by another conservative advocacy group, Americans for Prosperity (AFP—see Late 2004, May 29, 2009, and November 2009), which has aired some 7,000 ads. The Obama campaign and the Democratic National Committee (DNC) have combined to air some 20,342 ads. WMP data shows that 33,420 anti-Obama, pro-Republican spots have aired as opposed to 25,516 anti-Republican, pro-Obama ads.
Most Ads Paid for by Anonymous Donations - Unlike the majority of the ads that aired in the primary election, most of the ads airing for the general election have “come from groups that do not need to disclose their donors,” according to WMP co-founder Michael M. Franz. “That’s a lot of money and airtime backed by undisclosed sources.” Republican presidential candidates Newt Gingrich (R-GA), Jon Huntsman (R-UT), Mitt Romney (R-MA), and Rick Santorum (R-PA) were very reliant on super PAC advertising, with Ron Paul (R-TX) less so. About 20 percent of ads aired on Obama’s behalf have come from his super PAC, Priorities USA Action, though the DNC has aired a number of ads on behalf of Obama. Priorities USA Action is answering negative ads from Crossroads GPS with its own advertising, mainly in “battleground” states such as Iowa, North Carolina, Ohio, Colorado, Florida, Virginia, and Nevada. Ridout says: “Early general election spending reveals that both parties are focused on markets in the same key battleground states. The past couple of weeks, Obama and his super PAC have been on the air in a few more markets than Crossroads GPS, but both sides have focused their advertising in markets in Nevada, Colorado, Florida, Virginia, Iowa, and Ohio.” Groups such as the conservative Club for Growth, the American Action Network (AAN—see Mid-October 2010), and AFP are airing ads in Senate races in Florida, Indiana, and Nebraska. And some $6 million in advertising has flooded Wisconsin and its gubernatorial recall election involving Governor Scott Walker (R-WI). Walker and the super PAC supporting him, Right Direction Wisconsin PAC (an arm of the Republican Governors’ Association), have outspent their Democratic opponents; of the 17,000 ads aired in Wisconsin about the recall election, 10,000 have either been pro-Walker or negative ads attacking the recall and Walker’s challengers. Franz says: “Wisconsinites have been inundated with advertising surrounding the gubernatorial recall election. Walker and his allies hold a substantial advantage to date in the air war in all markets except Madison, and the incumbent governor’s ads have been more positive than his competitors’ ads.” The liberal news Web site Think Progress notes that the 2010 Citizens United decision is largely responsible for the increased spending by third-party groups (see January 21, 2010). [Wesleyan Media Project, 5/2/2012; Think Progress, 5/3/2012]

Entity Tags: Club for Growth, Americans for Prosperity, Travis Ridout, Wesleyan Media Project, Willard Mitt Romney, American Action Network, 2012 Obama presidential election campaign, Scott Kevin Walker, Ron Paul, Think Progress (.org), Rick Santorum, Jon Huntsman, Erika Franklin Fowler, Democratic National Committee, American Crossroads GPS, Right Direction Wisconsin PAC, Mitt Romney presidential campaign (2012), Michael M. Franz, Priorities USA Action, Newt Gingrich

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties, 2012 Elections

Analysis from the Annenberg Public Policy Center shows that 85 percent of the spending by the top 501(c)4 groups involved in the 2012 presidential campaign has been on ads found to be “deceptive” by fact-checking organizations. Spending from third-party groups, including “nonprofit” 501(c)4 groups, is up by 1,100 percent since the 2008 presidential campaign (see May 2, 2012). All of the ads are by Republican or conservative groups; Democratic 501(c)4 groups have not yet spent any money on the race. The ads, which aired between December 1, 2011 and June 1, 2012, have either targeted Republican presidential primary candidates or President Obama. The Washington Post’s Glenn Kessler, part of the Post’s “Fact Checker” team, recently criticized the wave of untruthful advertising, writing that “watching these ads is a depressing duty for The Fact Checker.… The erroneous assertions emerge… without any shame, labeled as ‘the truth’ or ‘fact.’” Kessler was criticizing ad campaigns by Americans for Prosperity (AFP—see Late 2004, May 29, 2009, and November 2009) and the American Future Fund (see October 12, 2010), which spent $8 million to attack Obama’s approval of the expense of “stimulus” money for “wasteful” programs that the ads falsely claimed sent American jobs to foreign countries. According to the Annenberg analysis, the four top groups spending money on deceptive ads are:
bullet The American Energy Alliance, a trade organization that advocates “free market energy policies,” with expenditures of $3,269,000;
bullet Americans for Prosperity, advocating lower taxes and less government spending, with expenditures of $5,018,000;
bullet The American Future Fund, with expenditures of $6,365,930; and
bullet Crossroads GPS, a conservative public policy advocacy group founded by former Bush administration political chief Karl Rove and former Republican National Committee director Ed Gillespie, with expenditures of $10,263,760.
Like the ads Kessler cited, many of the ads bought by the above-listed expenditures went to attack Obama over government financing of green energy companies such as the bankrupt solar company Solyndra. According to Bloomberg News, 81 percent of the attack ads against Obama in the first quarter of 2012 were about energy. [Washington Post, 4/30/2012; Annenberg Public Policy Center, 6/20/2012; Think Progress, 6/27/2012]

Entity Tags: American Crossroads GPS, Barack Obama, American Energy Alliance, Annenberg Public Policy Center, American Future Fund, Americans for Prosperity, Karl C. Rove, Bloomberg News, Ed Gillespie, Glenn Kessler, Solyndra Corporation

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties, 2012 Elections

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