Although Ohio has long been called ground zero for the presidential election, other Midwestern states appear to be key targets for independent political groups seeking to influence the race, particularly the conservative Progress for America Voter Fund.
Progress for America Voter Fund spent nearly $1.2 million on Wisconsin television stations between Aug. 24 and Sept. 8 for advertisements promoting President George W. Bush, according to a Center for Public Integrity analysis of filings with the Federal Election Commission. Some of the stations reach into Minnesota and Illinois, according to the FEC records. In Iowa, the group ran ads costing nearly $952,000 during a similar period.
The Media Fund, a liberal group opposed to Bush, purchased nearly $249,000 in ads in Wisconsin and nearly $100,000 in Iowa in July, August and early September. The group also turned its attention to Florida. The Media Fund bought $871,000 in television ads on Aug. 13. The spots aired between Aug. 17 and Aug. 23 in cities including Orlando, Jacksonville, Sarasota, Gainesville and West Palm Beach.
Groups such as the Media Fund and the Progress for America Voter Fund are known as "527 organizations" after the section of the Internal Revenue Code that governs their activities. They can raise unlimited contributions and can spend millions on advertising so long as they do not specifically call for the election or defeat of a federal candidate. They are mainly funded by individual contributors, some of whom have given six- and seven-figure checks.
Since June, the Progress for America Voter Fund has spent at least $3.8 million on presidential ads, while the Media Fund has spent nearly $2.6 million. The Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, which opposes Democratic presidential candidate Sen. John F. Kerry, spent nearly $585,000 on Sept. 10 for commercials on national cable networks CNN, Fox News Channel, MSNBC and The History Channel.
In addition to Wisconsin, Iowa, Ohio and Florida, 527 groups also purchased more than $100,000 of airtime in each of seven states—Oregon, West Virginia, New Mexico, Minnesota, Nevada, Illinois and Missouri—along with smaller amounts in several other states. MoveOn.org Voter Fund, a national group opposed to Bush, paid more than $1.7 million to its media consultants in August for ads that mainly ran in Washington, D.C., according to the filings.
The Center for Public Integrity's analysis is the first comprehensive examination of the "electioneering communications" filings, which are required for any group or individual not registered with the FEC that buys time for an advertisement during the final two months of the campaign that mentions or references a federal candidate. The Center's database of filings with both the FEC and IRS is updated every week.