With Sen. Barack Obama's campaign stumbling in recent days, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton's backers have poured $1 million into an independent ad campaign in Indiana critical of Obama's economic recovery program.
With $220,000 in ad buys Wednesday alone, the California-based American Leadership Project has spent more on advertisements in Indiana than in the other, more populous states where it has been active: Texas, Pennsylvania and Ohio.
The group has spent $1.99 million overall on ads in the four states and was considering spots in North Carolina, according to a participant.
The effort is funded mainly by unions backing Clinton. The American Federation of Teachers donated $300,000 on Wednesday. In recent days, the effort has received a combined $600,000 from the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees and unions representing painters and sheet metal workers.
Obama's backers countered by increasing spending on a separate independent campaign to sway Indiana voters. Their ad emphasizes Obama's opposition to the Iraq war.
The dueling spots come as the Illinois senator seeks to refocus his campaign amid the controversy over his former pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr.
Stephanie Mueller, spokeswoman for the Service Employees International Union, which is funding the pro-Obama ad, said the purchase was "six-figure" but would not be more specific.
The ad, which makes no mention of Clinton, opens by detailing the construction of schools, roads and health clinics. "We're building for the future -- Iraq's future," it says, then notes that "only one candidate" -- Obama -- opposed the war from the start. It ends by saying he would bring troops home and "put America first."
The SEIU has spent the most on independent campaigns during the primaries -- at least $8.7 million boosting Obama's candidacy, according to Federal Election Commission records. The AFSCME has spent $4.1 million to help Clinton.
The American Leadership Project spot stops short of expressly advocating Obama's defeat or Clinton's victory in Indiana's primary Tuesday, when North Carolina will also hold its balloting. But the ad cites economic woes, including foreclosures, unemployment and rising prices.
Playing off one of the New York senator's campaign themes that Obama has failed to offer specifics, the ad ends with a narrator urging people to call Obama's Senate office and "tell him to give Hoosiers a real plan to fix our economy."
Obama's campaign attorney, Robert Bauer, held a telephone news conference to denounce the ad. He said he had filed a complaint with the FEC.
Bauer's complaint alleges that the American Leadership Project violated the law by opposing Obama. Groups like American Leadership that accept unlimited donations cannot expressly advocate for or against a candidate. He also called on the FEC to refer the case to the Justice Department if the commission cannot act, and it almost certainly cannot.
The six-member FEC lacks a quorum. President Bush and the Senate have failed to compromise on a new batch of commissioners.
Loyola Law School professor Richard L. Hasen, an election law expert, reviewed the complaint at The Times' request. He said Bauer was "doing a lot of saber-rattling because that could scare away donors."
Hasen also said Bauer's complaint may be correct. But he noted that the FEC won't reach that conclusion any time soon, lacking a quorum.
"Without a functioning FEC, there is only so much action you can expect before the election," Hasen said.
Backers of the ads contend they are issue-related and not expressly opposing Obama.
"They're seeing that our effort to raise the awareness of these middle-class issues has been effective," said Sacramento consultant Jason Kinney, a Clinton backer and American Leadership Project co-founder. "Clearly, people are seeing the ads, they're talking about the ads, and it is fostering a discussion of these issues."