Astroturfing The Airwaves: Right-Wing Groups Have Now Aired 60,000+ TV Ads Since Aug. 1

October 13, 2010 9:54 am ET — Alan Pyke

Some changes this week to our ongoing coverage of TV activity from heavy-hitter conservative groups. We have expanded the list to 10 groups because the National Rifle Association's PAC has gotten in the game in a big way. The NRA had limited its electioneering to radio ads and direct mail until last week, but FEC filings show they've spent almost $2.7 million on TV ads. The advertising data we reviewed suggests the nation's leading pro-gun group has aired 1,822 ads across four Senate races.

All told, these ten groups have now aired 60,052 ads since the beginning of August (click to enlarge):

Beyond the NRA's $2.7 million splash, there were two other high-dollar developments in the past week that helped obscure the Tea Party Express' and American Action Network's near-disappearance from the airwaves.

The Chamber of Commerce spent at least $9.8 million to run fully 4,706 ads in just one week, meaning it eclipsed Americans for Prosperity (another apparent dropout from the big-money class). The Chamber reported even more spending ($10.7 million) to the FEC, but $949,886 of that spending appeared to be double-reported. Either way, the business lobby dropped a CEO's salary to influence our elections in just a few days. Makes you wonder what they're expecting in return.

The other big-bucks story is more complicated. The innocent-sounding Commission for Hope, Growth and Prosperity — a 501(c)4* founded by GOP operative Scott Reed — has posted a startling 2,153 ads since late September. We don't know how much money they spent doing it, because Reed's group has yet to report a cent of spending to the FEC (a fact that led the DCCC to file a complaint last week; good luck with that). Still, we know who's feeding Reed's tongue-twisting money machine. From the horse's mouth:

Where's the dough coming from? "The big three stepping into the batter's box are the financial services industry, the energy industry, and the health insurance industry," Reed said.

Try not to be shocked that Wall Street, the pollution-industrial complex and the folks who brought you the "pre-existing condition" are eager to neuter a government that's making them all play by the rules.

And don't think for a second that when things calm down after Election Day, we'll have a chance to examine the companies who are buying the midterms. Again, Scott Reed explains:

The "501cs are the keys to the political kingdom," says lobbyist Scott Reed, "because they allow anonymity."

The increasing popularity of under-the-radar 501(c) groups is underscored by contrasting this year's public disclosures with past election seasons. A recent study from Public Citizen shows that in 2004 and 2006, the large majority of outside groups revealed their donors. By contrast in 2008 only about half disclosed their donors and this year, to date, a scant 32 percent have made such disclosures.

After all, what's the point in buying an election if people are going to find out you did it? It's much easier to pretend that career GOP operatives and billionaire financiers are equivalent to labor activists, fully-disclosed donor lists and small-dollar donations from working families.

*Media Matters Action Network is a 501(c)4 non-profit organization. If we start running thousands of political ads, we'll let you know.