NPR logo Attacking Democrats Without Leaving A Trace

American Issues Project

Attacking Democrats Without Leaving A Trace

The American Issues Project, which burst into the presidential campaign in August with multi-million-dollar attack ads tying Barack Obama to former Weatherman radical Bill Ayres, is back.

The group's new million-dollar ad buy, though, takes a very different tack. It blames the economic crisis on congressional Democrats, tracing the meltdown to such "Senate liberals" as Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) and Sen. Chris Dodd (D-CT). (Note: Reid and Dodd aren't up for reelection.) The ad concludes with the (grammatically iffy) question, "Who should you trust on the economy?" It comes as Democrats, from Obama to Senate and House candidates, seem to rise in the polls every time the Dow Jones falls.

Talk about a brilliant strategy. The ad raises doubts about all Democrats — "liberals protect corruption" — without actually naming any candidates. That means the American Issues Project doesn't need to file any papers showing who footed the bill. Because AIP's previous ad attacked Obama, the group had to disclose that Texas billionaire Harold Simmons bankrolled it. An AIP spokesman confirmed that won't be happening this time around.

There's another benefit as well. As a 501(c)(4) group, American Issues Project can do unlimited amounts of issue advocacy but would jeapordize its tax-exempt status if political work became its primary activity. So AIP can say this ad is about issues, not candidates, thereby protecting its tax status, and it can still implicitly criticize candidates at the same time.

The smart strategy is no accident. The group counts as consultants two GOP operatives connected to the most influential conservative groups of the 2004 presidential election. There's Chris LaCivita, who worked with Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, and Tony Feather, who co-founded Progress for America.

With brains like these, no wonder AIP has figured out how to have its cake and eat it too.