One of the largest conservative advocacy groups announced Friday that it was pouring an additional $6 million into television ads that explicitly call for President Obama’s defeat, testing the limits on the political role of nonprofit social welfare organizations.
Americans for Prosperity, which has been backed by the billionaire Koch brothers, said it planned to put as much as $27 million by the first week of September into commercials that expressly call for voters to deny Obama a second term.
As a 501(c)4 organization, AFP cannot make politics its primary purpose. Until recently, the group devoted its substantial resources to running so-called “issue ads” that attacked the president’s tenure without calling for his defeat. But AFP -- along with several other conservative organizations, including Crossroads GPS and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce -- shifted strategy this summer after a new court ruling declared that groups that run issue ads close to the election have to reveal their funders.
"We did not make this decision lightly," AFP President Tim Phillips said this month. "In our eight years as an organization, we have never taken an express advocacy position with regard to any candidate anywhere."
Phillips said the group "felt compelled to act" by the "disastrous economic policies of this administration."
Because of a quirk in campaign finance law, ads that are expressly political do not trigger the disclosure rules. But in stepping up their campaign activity, these groups risk scrutiny of their nonprofit tax status by the IRS.
The new AFP spot strikes a quiet but emphatic tone, as real voters express regret for backing Obama in 2008.
“Obama said he would help the middle class,” says one woman in the ad. “And that’s where I am -- I’m the middle class. And instead, it has hurt me.”
“I have not received the hope and change that I believed in in 2008,” adds a man.
The ad concludes with words on the screen reading: “Has President Obama earned your vote? It’s time for a change.”
The commercial will be running in heavy rotation in Florida and North Carolina during the upcoming party conventions, AFP said, and will also air in nine other battleground states.
Americans for Prosperity said in May that it planned to pour $151 million into television and field operations during this campaign, with 80% of its TV budget to be spent before Labor Day.
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