What a difference four years makes, even for a billionaire like T. Boone Pickens.
It was four years and four days ago that Swift Boat Veterans for Truth logged in a $100,000 check from Pickens. The group had just finished shooting a TV ad that accused Democrat John Kerry of inflating his Vietnam war record. When the ad ran -- during the Democratic National Convention -- it knocked Kerry's presidential bid off the rails. Pickens went on to give Swift Boats a total of $2 million.
And today? Pickens isn't financing attack ads. Instead, the Texas oilman was on Capitol Hill, telling a Senate committee that it's time for America to take the plunge on wind, solar and natural gas. And last week he laid out $6.3 million for a TV ad to promote that goal.
That puts Pickens at the top of this week's list for independent political advertisers on television. While NPR follows the candidates, our Secret Money Project is tracking these non-affiliated players, watching where their money comes from and how they spend it. Last week, aside from Pickens, 10 groups had 14 spots airing.
Also on the air: dueling veterans, as we reported last week. The conservative Vets for Freedom spent roughly $768,000 to air its pro-surge ad more than 2,000 times. The AFL-CIO, with a Veterans Council, spent less than one-tenth that much for its own ad, in which a Vietnam veteran criticizes Republican John McCain's Senate record.
Health Care for America Now, a new coalition of liberal groups, hit the airwaves in its campaign against insurance companies.
Most of the groups were aiming at the presidential race. Just one, the Coalition for a Democratic Workplace, weighed in on a Senate campaign. Its ad promotes Republican incumbent Norm Coleman and targets Democrat Al Franken in Minnesota for his support of legislation that would make it easier for unions to win organizing votes.
And a tip of the reportorial fedora to Will Evans of the Center for Investigative Reporting, who analyzed our data from the Campaign Media Analysis Group and works on the Secret Money Project.