By Niall Stanage - 05/26/12 12:00 PM EDT
Conservative super-PACs are attempting to gin up disillusionment among President Obama’s supporters and keep their turnout low in November’s election, in part by highlighting his ties to Wall Street.
Within the past month, three separate ads — two from the American Future Fund and one from Crossroads GPS — have assailed Obama from broadly comparable perspectives. Especially striking are the American Future Fund ads which make the kind of anti-Wall Street argument heard largely on the left.
Asked whether at least part of the super-PACs intention was to persuade voters who might otherwise support Obama to stay home, Republican strategist Keith Appell said:
“Sure. It helps. Part of [the purpose] is to raise questions in that 2008 Obama voter’s mind. Many of them may feel so disillusioned by his record. So, yes, I think that’s part of it.”
Appell, who is not affiliated with either of the groups behind the ads, also noted that they could fuel the sense that there was no material difference between Obama and Romney with regard to their closeness to the business world.
“If they are both cut from the same cloth people will say, ‘A plague on both your houses,’” he said.
Democratic strategist Chris Lehane speculated that Republicans may feel they need to keep Democratic turnout low because they will not be able to rely on the kind of well-honed turnout operation that served President George W. Bush well.
“The Republicans don’t have the ground game that they had in the Bush era this time around, and so they are going for a voter-suppression approach,” Lehane asserted.
“They are targeting people, not with any realistic chances of winning their vote, but in the hope that they will be so disillusioned with the entire process that they don’t come out to vote.”
The American Future Fund has reportedly spent $3.4 million to buy airtime in battleground states for its assault on Obama.
In the newer of its two ads, “Justice for Sale”, the narrator laments that “not a single senior Wall Street executive has been charged with a crime — not one. Why? Could it be because Obama raised $49 million from Wall Street, more than any candidate in history?”
The other ad, titled “Obama’s Wall Street,” was first produced in late February, but has apparently been relaunched.
It attacks Obama on the basis that “his White House is full of Wall Street executives” and concludes “Obama won’t admit to supporting Wall Street, but Wall Street sure supports President Obama.”
In both cases, the rhetorical tone would not be out of place at a meeting of the Occupy movement. Yet the ad comes from a group that lists its board of directors as being comprised of two “life-long” conservative activists and a Republican state senator from Iowa.
In the ad from Crossroads GPS, an actor plays the role of a middle-aged relatively affluent woman who supported Obama in 2008 because “he spoke so beautifully; he promised change.” Now, her adult children are unable to move out of the family home because they have not been able to find jobs and start their careers.
“I had so many hopes,” the woman says, her tone one of sorrow more than anger.
The ad will air in 10 swing states, and has $9.7 million of funding behind it.
Arguing that the ad’s relative lightness of touch is its most important asset, Republican consultant Rick Wilson said, “It’s not a huge hair-on-fire ad but it is a very corrosive ad for Barack Obama because it says to people who voted for him: ‘You weren’t a bad person in 2008, you just made a mistake.’”
Democratic pollster Mark Mellman, who is also a columnist for The Hill, criticized the use of actors and a script, however.
“Yes, people need to have permission to change their mind but they are trying to change their mind by reading them a novel — an entirely fictional novel, to my mind,” he said.
The communications director for Crossroads GPS, Jonathan Collegio, insisted that his group’s ads were not made with the specific intention of discouraging people from voting for Obama.
“No, these are issue ads,” he said. He noted that the most recent ad included, at the end, a suggestion that voters should sign up to support the “New Majority Agenda.” This agenda, displayed on the Crossroads website, mostly revolves around issues of fiscal conservatism.
“The goal of Crossroads is to stop the tax increases,” Collegio said, “and big government initiatives have been part of Mr. Obama’s agenda.”
Divining the exact strategic purpose behind super-PAC ads is made more complicated by virtue of the groups’ relationship to election finance laws.
In a request currently before the Federal Election Commission (FEC), lawyers for the American Future Fund are seeking an advisory opinion that they hope will help them continue to shield the identity of their donors.
One of the tests under election law is whether the ads in question would “refer to a clearly identified federal candidate.” In their letter to the FEC, the American Future Fund’s lawyers, Jason Torchinsky and Michael Bayes, suggest that one proposed ad would not do this, even though it proposes to include a clip of Obama’s voice.
“The advertisement will not identify the speaker in any way,” they write. “Only those familiar with President Obama’s voice will know that it is President Obama speaking.”
An opposing letter on behalf of Obama for America is also before the FEC. In it, attorney Robert Bauer argues that a decision in favor of the American Future Fund would mean “the disclosure requirements...will have been diminished to the vanishing point.”
Several attempts by The Hill to reach the American Future Fund for comment on its ads were unsuccessful.