GUY RAZ, HOST:
Now, over the course of this election, we've been hearing a lot about political superPACs. But below the radar, a number of smaller, often secretive groups have been working, as well, working to influence the outcome. Here's NPR's Peter Overby with more.
PETER OVERBY, BYLINE: This is the more entrepreneurial side of politics: a few people without much money compared to the big guys but with something to say that they hope will catch voters' attention. The American Principles SuperPAC launched in August with six donors. Now, it's put up dozens of highway billboards in Florida blaming President Obama for high gasoline prices. And a small-donor PAC, the 17-month-old Campaign to Defeat Barack Obama, is sending a bus across the battleground states. They call it the Rebuild America Tour, not to be confused with the Obama's Failing Agenda bus tour, a multimillion-dollar, secretly funded project by Americans For Prosperity, a group that enjoys the backing of the billionaire Koch brothers and their allies. At the Campaign to Defeat Obama, Vice President Ryan Gill says they do what the D.C.-based superPACs can't manage.
RYAN GILL: We do rallies where we reach the grassroots directly, whereas the superPAC model that we hear a lot about these days is much more, you know, a few people doing large media buys.
OVERBY: Besides the bus tour, the Campaign to Defeat Obama is also asking donors to help get this ad on TV
(SOUNDBITE OF POLITICAL AD)
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: It's time to retire the beer summit, spring break presidency. It's time to put the adults back in charge of America.
OVERBY: But Ryan says the main mission is to mobilize the conservative base.
GILL: We're building the energy among the faithful and getting people more involved and more active to go and turn out votes for Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan.
OVERBY: There are dozens and dozens of small entrepreneurial efforts like these, mostly on the right. Donors on the left tend to favor big, established groups: unions, environmental and women's groups, organizations doing battle and social issues. But there are exceptions. One of them is a social welfare group called Artists and Illustrators for Children. Its 400 members include the authors of "The Phantom Tollbooth," "The Giver" and "Ella Enchanted."
APRIL HALPRIN WAYLAND: Our target are librarians, teachers, parents who read books to their children, people in the literary community.
OVERBY: This is author and poet April Halprin Wayland.
WAYLAND: We're hoping that the reputation of our members will encourage them to think about, hmm, if this person, who I respect and whose work I know really feels like Obama's the best candidate, let me take a look.
OVERBY: Their biggest media play - not that big at all - came in September. Just before TV ad rates went up, the group aired a TV spot 35 times in small markets in Florida. If theirs is perhaps the softest of soft sells for President Obama, here's one of the harshest attacks against him: "Dreams From My Real Father." It's a DVD alleging that the president is the child of an illicit affair and has spent his life pursuing the communist goals of his birth father. This is from one of the movie trailers.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: You have cracked the code surrounding Obama...
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: The American people will embrace the change.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: ...and the true Marxist mission he is on.
OVERBY: Let's note here that that little clip of President Obama was pulled from a 2008 campaign speech. It wasn't about Marxism. Ironically, he was talking about ending divisive politics. The writer, director and producer of the movie is Joel Gilbert. He says seven million copies are being mailed to swing-state voters.
JOEL GILBERT: I'm hoping everybody watches it before Election Day, on Election Day, after Election Day.
OVERBY: But he says "Dreams From My Real Father" isn't meant to influence the election. The DVD mailings are meant to make the movie a success.
GILBERT: We're sending them state by state for publicity so that it'll force the media to cover it. And that's, I'm sure, why we're talking today.
OVERBY: Gilbert says that might lead to a television deal and even a book contract. Peter Overby, NPR News, Washington.