Iowa TV station won't air "Pull the Plug on Grandma" ad attacking Sen. Grassley

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A Des Moines TV station is refusing to air an attack ad against Republican Sen. Charles Grassley created by two liberal groups unless they change what the station says is an out-of-context sound bite by the senator.

The ad features Kevin Shilling, identified as a Greenfield, Iowa resident, who recounts his previous support for Grassley and for Republicans Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, and George W. Bush. Shilling then calls Grassley “an embarrassment to Iowa,” as the ad shows brief clips of statements the 77-year old incumbent has made over the years.

The ad was paid for by the Progressive Change Campaign Committee and by Democracy for America. The latter was founded by Howard Dean, a former Democratic National Committee chairman and 2004 presidential hopeful.

Dale Woods, WHO-TV’s general manager, told You Report: Election 2010 that while “95 percent of the ad is perfectly okay,” he takes issue with the editing of a clip of Grassley saying, “They’re gonna pull the plug on grandma,” while the caption “Pull the plug on grandma” appears on the screen. Grassley’s full quote during the Congressional health care reform debate was “we should not have a government program that determines they’re gonna pull the plug on grandma.”

With minor edits, the TV station would be happy to air the spot, Woods added.

Grassley campaign spokesman Eric Woolson told You Report: Election 2010 that the ad is “designed to create some false impressions.” The Grassley camp also says the ad implies that Shilling is a fed-up Republican, when he is actually the Democratic Party chairman in Adair County, Iowa. A website for Iowa Democrats lists both Shilling and another individual as county chairmen.

In defense of the ad, Adam Green, co-founder of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, says “the context is all accurate” and offers a line-by-line citation of each quote used in the ad.

On the “pull the plug” quote in particular, Green said that due to the enormous publicity that comment received in 2009, “everyone knows exactly what Grassley said.” Green added that he does not believe viewers think “we are accusing Grassley of himself wanting to pull the plug on Grandma,” concluding, “If that's the station's concern, they should communicate that to us.”

As for Shilling, the voter featured in the ad, Green says if critics are willing to pay for an extra 30 seconds of ad-time, “we'd be happy to give Kevin even more time to explain why right-wingers like Grassley are driving long-time Republican voters to support Democrats.”

Providing another element of controversy, the ad ends with a request for cash contributions from viewers to help “keep this ad on TV.” Would-be donors are directed to go to enoughgrassley.com, which forwards to a Democratic-aligned fundraising site, ActBlue, which asks donors to contribute $4 and promises that “every $100 helps us air another ad in Iowa.”

The Grassley camp’s Woolson called that a “cheap fundraising gimmick” by the two liberal groups, and that the ad was “as much about raising money for their groups as anything else.”

In its disclosure documents to the Federal Election Commission, Democracy for America reported paying $3,100 on ad production and $9,995 for air time.

The Progressive Change Campaign Committee reported to the FEC that it spent $3,400 on production and $9,995 on the initial television buy for this ad. The group’s ad buyer is in the process of buying additional air time, using the more than $35,000 already raised online, Green said. Each cable TV airing, he explained, runs about $100.

Both groups are registered as political action committees, meaning that they must disclose their major donors and can only accept contributions of up to $5,000 per person, per year.

Ad Title: Enough Grassley

Paid for By: Progressive Change Campaign Committee and Democracy for America

Cost: TBD

Disclaimer: Paid for by the Progressive Change Campaign Committee (www.boldprogressives.org) and Democracy for America (www.democracyforamerica.com). Not authorized by any candidate or candidate’s committee. The Progressive Change Campaign Committee and Democracy for America are responsible for the content of this advertising.

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