September Saw Smorgasbord Of Attack Ads : Secret Money Project New ads and new groups burst onto TV screens in September. Independent groups bought about $23 million worth of election-oriented airtime during the month, according to the Campaign Media Analysis Group. Let's
NPR logo September Saw Smorgasbord Of Attack Ads

September Saw Smorgasbord Of Attack Ads

New ads and new groups burst onto TV screens in September. Independent groups bought about $23 million worth of election-oriented airtime during the month, according to the Campaign Media Analysis Group. Let's take a look back...

T. Boone Pickens has been burning a hole in his pocket, if not the ozone. After he bought more than $5 million worth of airtime in September for his campaign advocating wind power and natural gas, we wondered whether Boone would go dark — he was hit with big financial losses at his day job. Now the wondering is over. Boone spent nearly another million dollars on advertising on the day of the presidential debate last week to propel viewers to his plan.

Boone, a longtime Republican mega-donor, recently said something we never though we'd hear him say: "Whether you're supporting the Democrat or the Republican, I don't care."

Most of the other groups buying airtime tend to care a lot more.

On the left, the Service Employees International Union is the top spender in the presidential race, with $1.3 million in airtime attacking McCain on the economy.

On the right, the prize goes to newcomer Rightchange.com, which spent nearly $900,000 on an obtuse anti-Obama ad and just announced a new one. The 527 is run by Republican state legislators in North Carolina and a pharmaceutical executive who provides the funding.

The runner-up on the right is Vets For Freedom, which spent close to $600,000 on ads critical of Obama in September. The latest of the group's increasingly hard-hitting ads accuses Obama of having "skipped" 45 percent of Senate votes while managing "to show up to vote against emergency funding for our troops." As usual for VFF, the ad is worded to be about legislation — a Senate resolution praising the surge — rather than about the White House race. Still, the ad makes several points that mirror a McCain campaign attack ad, which was deconstructed by Factcheck.org. Vets For Freedom plans a $2.2 million national buy — starting with heavy emphasis on California, a state that has been considered a sure bet for Obama.

You don't always need to spend a lot to get a lot of attention. Both MoveOn.org and Born Alive Truth got a big bang this month for few bucks. But Brave New Films is probably the best example. The political film company created a ruckus with an ad focusing on McCain's skin cancer. The ad was so hot it was rejected by CNN, bashed by Fox and dropped after a debut on MSNBC. Airtime cost: $5,000. Attention: priceless.

Check out Senate ads after the jump...

In Senate races, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce is king of the airwaves. The trade association spent $3.9 million in the last month, representing nearly 40 percent of all Senate-related spending, according to CMAG. The Chamber spends most of its time bashing Democratic candidates Mark Udall of Colorado, Al Franken of Minnesota and Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire.

A recent Chamber ad, for example, uses dramatic clips from old, old movies to portray former Gov. Shaheen as an out-of-control tax-and-spender.

Also in September, an odd-couple coalition bankrolled by the pharmaceutical industry spent about $1.3 million on Senate races. Most of that, again oddly, went to praise Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ), who doesn't need the help. He's polling well ahead of his GOP opponent.

Freedom's Watch paid for about $1 million worth of conservative air time, most of it skewering Udall in Colorado. Its new ad is kind of funny — unless you're Udall.

Several elk in a field are trying to find the "Mark Udall elk crossing bridge," apparently an earmark supported by Udall. One elk says, "You'd think a $10 million bridge would be easier to find." Another elk yucks it up, "Good thing Udall's focused on natural security." And yet another elk guffaws, "Maybe he can get another earmark for some signs." Before the ad ends, a rabbit complains, "Hey that's not fair...We deserve a bridge!"

American Rights at Work also spent about $1 million. The labor-backed organization is airing the Democrat-friendly response to the Employee Freedom Action Committee, which is attacking Democrats over union legislation. EFAC dropped about $600,000 in September.

The hottest Senate races in terms of TV spending are Colorado, Minnesota, New Hampshire and Oregon — all seen as ripe for Democratic gains, and each of them representing more than $1 million in ads.

Colorado is the battleground of all battlegrounds, with nearly $3 million in total September spending by 12 different groups. Conservative groups vastly outgunned liberal ones in Colorado, by more than four to one. As for issues, the ads were all over the map: health care, energy, national security, education...even eminent domain.

Money isn't everything, but maybe the hard work by Freedom's Watch, the Chamber of Commerce, Employee Freedom Action Committee, Club for Growth and the Associated Builders & Contractors is finally paying off: Udall's lead over Republican Bob Schaffer is dropping.