Anonymous Air Cover: Tracking The Right Wing's Ad Spending

September 10, 2010 12:28 pm ET — Alan Pyke

Earlier this year, prominent conservative activists Karl Rove and Ed Gillespie helped form the political action committee American Crossroads GPS to take advantage of the Citizens United ruling that allows unlimited corporate spending in American elections. With the Republican National Committee's fundraising on life support, Gillespie and Rove's "shadow RNC" group pledged to spend $50 million to elect Republicans in the fall.

American Crossroads GPS is far from the only soft-money organization that has pledged massive spending on conservative candidates. Together with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce ($75 million), Americans for Prosperity ($45 million), the Club for Growth ($24 million at a minimum), the NRA ($20 million), FreedomWorks ($10 million) and a host of less prominent groups, Republicans have been promised an eye-popping $400 million in "independent expenditures" — the FEC's term for almost-unrestricted political campaign spending that can be impossible to trace back to its sources.

This summer, those pledges are becoming tangible, mostly in the form of attack ads. So who has ponied up so far, and for what?

According to the Associated Press, as of August 22 the Chamber of Commerce had plowed over $4 million into Senate contests from Massachusetts to Arkansas. FEC filings from January show the Chamber funded a $1 million ad blitz to help Sen. Scott Brown win the special election for Sen. Kennedy's old seat. Since the Associated Press published the $4 million figure, the Chamber has been extraordinarily busy.

From the FEC documents, the Chamber has recently spent:

$1.3 million attacking Rep. Paul Hodes (D-NH), who's running for Senate, with an ad called "Hodes Motto".

$599,269.50 attacking Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) with an ad called "Can't Work".

$324,640 attacking Senate candidate Robin Carnahan (D-MO) with an ad called "Plan".

$250,000 attacking Rep. Brad Ellsworth (D-IN), who's running for Senate, with an ad called "Washington Spending".

$147,763 attacking Sen. Michael Bennet (D-CO) with an ad called "Record".

That's about $2.6 million in just the past few weeks.

And what of American Crossroads GPS, the Rove/Gillespie "shadow RNC" with the $50 million bankroll? With $10 million of that stack earmarked for voter mobilization efforts, they've still got enough ad money to fund a small-market baseball team. And they're only just beginning to spend it.

According to FEC filings, since August 18 American Crossroads GPS has spent:

$454,341.80 boosting Senate hopeful Rob Portman (R-OH) with an ad called "Jobs for Ohio".

$390,197 attacking Senate hopeful Robin Carnahan (D-MO) with an ad called "Health".

$332,473.50 attacking Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) with an ad called "Jobs".

$213,477 attacking Sen. Bennet in Colorado with an ad called "Debt".

$168,635.98 attacking Senate hopeful Jack Conway (D-KY) with an ad called "Health".

That totals just over $1.5 million, in three weeks of airtime. And it doesn't include another anti-Carnahan ad, titled "Baby," in which American Crossroads GPS uses a newborn in a hospital and that hasn't yet been tallied in the FEC spending reports.

How about Americans for Prosperity?

According to their website, AFP made a $330,000 ad buy in Colorado to attack Rep. Betsy Markey (D) with an ad called "Tell Betsy Markey She Works For Colorado," though that purchase doesn't show up in AFP's filings with the FEC. AFP has boasted of a $256,440 buy attacking Rep. Mark Schauer (D-MI), a $141,269 buy attacking Rep. Ike Skelton (D-MO), a $120,000 buy attacking Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ), a $100,000 buy attacking Rep. Earl Pomeroy (D-ND), and a $100,000 buy attacking Rep. Dina Titus (D-NV). And then there's a $4.2 million buy to attack the Recovery Act in 11 states, and a $1.4 million buy for another issue ad in four states.

$6.6 million from AFP on the air since June.

Over $10.5 million on TV ads from just these three groups, with hundreds of millions more promised in the remaining months before Election Day. Essentially untraceable. Completely unaccountable.

The GOP's air cover has another common theme, beyond mysterious and unlimited funding. The ads referenced above are based on massive distortions of history and policy. At Political Correction, we're watching, and pointing it out whenever these conservative money-mills use their admirable wealth to amplify falsehoods. Who speaks loudest rarely speaks best, and the pervasive dishonesty in these ads demands a factual response. We provide it.

Sometimes, that makes the people who produced the ads angry. Last week, GOP consultant Rick Wilson got frustrated when we derailed his attack ad on Harry Reid (the ad was funded by yet another off-the-grid soft money group, Americans for New Leadership, a Tea Party tentacle that even Erick Erickson finds unsavory). Wilson never did offer a criticism of our fact check debunking his ad as false, but instead wondered why Media Matters staffers "don't get curbstomped fortnightly?"

Rarely has the right-wing noise machine had such an incredible opportunity to overwhelm voters with bad information. Yet they still respond with childish anger and ugly allusions to violence when their political opponents point out the facts. Never has it been so clear that the modern right relies not on ideas, but intimidation; not on hope and change, but rage and anger; not on truth, but cold hard cash.