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At the End, Pro-GOP '527s' Outspent Their Counterparts

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At the End, Pro-GOP '527s' Outspent Their Counterparts

By Jeffrey H. Birnbaum and Thomas B. Edsall
Washington Post Staff Writers
Saturday, November 6, 2004

In the final three weeks of the campaign, independent "527" groups backing President Bush bought nearly $30 million worth of television and radio ads, three times what their Democratic counterparts spent, according to a study by the Center for Public Integrity.

This was a reversal of the pattern during the spring and summer months when such pro-Democratic 527s as the Media Fund, MoveOn.org and organized labor spent more than $60 million, matching the Bush campaign at a time when no Republican 527 groups were on the air.

"At the end, Republican 527s reversed the trend from earlier in the year and got ahead of the Democrats, and it definitely appears to have made a difference for Bush, particularly in Ohio," said Alex Knott, political editor of the Center for Public Integrity.

In addition, two Republican 527 groups, the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth and Progress for America, ran ads that, according to surveys, made the strongest impressions on voters in key states.

The Swift Boat Veterans spent less than either of the top two Democratic 527 groups. Yet Swift Boat Veterans ads attacking John F. Kerry's service in Vietnam were recalled by 75 percent of those surveyed by the Republican firm Fabrizio, McLaughlin & Associates. Running second to the Swift boat ads in viewer impact was a pro-Bush Progress for America commercial showing 16-year-old Ashley, whose mother was killed during the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

Using a different methodology, Public Opinion Strategies found that voters in six battleground states were most deeply influenced by three sets of commercials, all either pro-Bush or anti-Kerry: the Swift boat ads, the "Ashley" commercials and "Wolves," an ad produced by the Bush campaign using film of a wolf pack to suggest the threat of terrorism.

The 527 groups, named for a section of the tax code, raised and spent unlimited "soft money" contributions, mostly given by wealthy individuals. Groups active in the presidential race raised at least $175 million, the Center for Public Integrity found.

Overall, the Bush-Cheney campaign and the Republican National Committee raised $684 million, and the Kerry-Edwards campaign and the Democratic National Committee raised $627 million, according to PoliticalMoneyLine, a campaign finance Web site.

In Senate contests, the Campaign Finance Institute found that fundraising by incumbents in close races shot up 73 percent, from $4.5 million in 2002 to $7.8 million this year, while challenger fundraising in those contests grew 29 percent, from $2.8 million to $3.6 million.

In House elections, the CFI found that for the first time, average spending by winners exceeded $1 million.

One key under-the-radar factor in the Bush and Republican congressional campaigning was an unprecedented effort by the business community to harness the Internet. The Business Roundtable, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB) and other trade groups were aggressive in contacting employees, educating them on pro-business issues and getting them to the polls.

"The effort in this election was truly huge. It was several times bigger and broader than anything done by business before," said Dirk Van Dongen, president of the National Association of Wholesaler-Distributors and a leader in business get-out-the-vote efforts. "I truly believe it made a difference at the presidential level, at the senatorial level and at the level of the House."

"I'm always cynical about how much the business community could do," said Dan Danner, top lobbyist for the NFIB. "But this is a place where we delivered and made an impact."

For example, 91 of the Business Roundtable's 160 member companies took part in a program that gave employees political information via the Internet. The program, which was put together by the Business Industry Political Action Committee, or BIPAC, attracted 6.5 million visits to BIPAC sites and produced about 25 million page views. About 800,000 voter registration forms were downloaded, and nearly 800,000 early vote and absentee ballot forms were downloaded.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce had a similar system for 75 companies, 230 local chambers of commerce and 95 trade associations. In addition, said executive vice president R. Bruce Josten, the U.S. Chamber sent 20 million e-mails to members and others in eight targeted states that had closely contested Senate campaigns. The U.S. Chamber also sent out about 3 million pieces of direct mail, made 2.1 million phone calls and purchased millions of Web ads that encouraged employees to get out and vote for pro-business and often Republican candidates.

The NFIB also sent out millions of postcards, e-mails and faxes, and made telephone calls to members and others to remind small business owners that they could vote early and that they should vote for pro-small business candidates.

Campaigning by the National Rifle Association also appeared to have an impact. Fourteen of the 18 Senate candidates endorsed by the NRA won. Of the 251 House candidates endorsed by the NRA, 241 won. These numbers come from the NRA.

Emily's List, a liberal Democratic organization that supports abortion rights, won battles if not the war. It supported five of the eight women added to the House. In addition, it took partial credit for the reelection of every Emily's List incumbent, including Sens. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), and Barbara A. Mikulski (D-Md.), Delaware Gov. Ruth Ann Minner (D) and 36 congresswomen. With more than 100,000 contributing members, Emily's List is the nation's largest political action committee. It works to elect Democratic women to federal, state and local office.

Although money was a crucial factor in the outcome of almost all House and Senate races, incumbency bestowed a huge advantage. In nearly a third of House races -- 127 -- the winner was unopposed (30) or faced an opponent with no money (97), the Center for Public Integrity study found.

 

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