An independent political action committee is spending $2.2 million to air a television ad across California, starting today, that criticizes Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama on national security issues.
The group, Vets for Freedom, has been active in several battleground states. But this is its first ad buy in California, which is considered to be firmly in Obama's column. His Republican rival, John McCain, is making only token campaign efforts in the state.
Former Republican Gov. Pete Wilson, who is backing McCain, said the commercial is not specifically aimed at turning Californians against Obama. But "if people are persuaded by the ads, it can only help -- not just Sen. McCain but anyone else who shares [the group's] view," he said.
Issue advocacy commercials don't expressly support or oppose a particular candidate but can be used to sway an election's outcome. The Vets for Freedom spot will air in all California markets except the Bay Area over the next week.
The ad opens with the image of a smiling Obama, leaning back in an office chair. A voice says: "Barack Obama skipped 45% of Senate votes but did manage to show up to vote against emergency funding for our troops. . . . Obama was chairman of the committee overseeing the fight against Al Qaeda in Afghanistan but never held a single hearing. . . . Obama found time to make 45 trips to Iowa but only two trips to Iraq."
McCain is never mentioned.
The ad concludes by suggesting that voters urge Obama to support a Senate resolution backed by two of McCain's closest allies, independent Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut and Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina. The resolution commends the United States for undertaking the troop buildup in Iraq and says the gains from the move have been significant. Lawmakers who favor a more rapid withdrawal from Iraq oppose the resolution.
"I can't think of anything that would be a worse defeat for the United States than to pull out before we have achieved our goals," Wilson said in explaining why he was promoting the Vets for Freedom effort.
Obama campaign spokesman Ben LaBolt called the ad "a despicable distortion" of the candidate's record, adding that Obama "has been a forceful advocate for our service members, passing legislation that ensured our wounded warriors receive the care and treatment they deserve."
In last week's debate with McCain, Obama said that on the issue of Afghanistan, he had deferred to the Foreign Relations Committee chaired by his running mate, Sen. Joe Biden, to hold hearings.
As a nonprofit, Vets for Freedom -- which describes itself as the largest organization of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans -- is not required to disclose its donors. Nor is it required to disclose its spending until it files its 2008 tax returns, long after the Nov. 4 election.
A 2006 tax return, the most recent available, showed that six people accounted for $145,000 of the $186,000 the group raised that year. They included major Republican donors who are giving to McCain and the GOP this election cycle. Several are affiliated with the conservative Manhattan Institute think tank, where Vets for Freedom Chairman Pete Hegseth worked as a staff member and fundraiser.
Among the 2006 Vets for Freedom donors were Virginia developer Bob Pence, one of Republican Mitt Romney's major fundraisers; New York hedge fund mogul Paul Singer, who was one of Rudolph W. Giuliani's major backers; and Michael Fedak, a New York physician who had given to Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, the group that attacked Democrat John F. Kerry over his Vietnam War service in the 2004 presidential campaign.
"There is no Republican or Democrat on my dog tags," said Hegseth, a New York National Guard captain who served in Iraq and at Guantanamo Bay. "We're not interested in what party you're with. We're interested in how you view the war, whether or not you believe this is a war we need to win."