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Sometimes You Just Don't Know Who Bought That Ad

Oct 5, 2010

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One of the most important and most difficult to answer questions in politics these days seems to be "who paid for that ad?"

It should be easy. After all, candidates have to tell us who they are and interest groups always end their spots with something like "Americans for Apple Pie is responsible for the content of this ad."

But as NPR's Peter Overby explains today on All Things Considered, figuring out just who's funding those interest groups and their ads isn't always easy.

Peter uses the case of American Crossroads, a conservative group formed by Republican political guru Karl Rove and two former GOP chairmen to illustrate the issue. The organization just announced it's spending another $4 million on ads aimed at Democratic candidates — bringing its spending so far this campaign season to $18 million.

As this short medley of Crossroads ads shows, though, they end with the statement that "Crossroads GPS is responsible for the content of this advertising":

Crossroads GPS, a spinoff of American Crossroads, calls itself a tax-exempt social-welfare organization — which means it doesn't have to disclose its donors. It's by far not the only organization to have used that legal status to such advantage.

Two groups, the Campaign Legal Center and Democracy 21, are asking the Internal Revenue Services to investigate "whether Crossroads GPS ... is operating in violation of its tax status because it has a primary purpose of participating in political campaigns in support of, or in opposition to, candidates for public office." Here's a letter they sent to the IRS today:

Jonathan Collegio, a spokesman for American Crossroads, says the complaint has no merit. "What we're seeing is a lot of selective outrage," he tells Peter.

As for what the ads are like, here's one example. It's aimed at Sen. Michael Bennet, D-CO:

Like we said above, Peter will be reporting about all this on ATC tonight. Click here to find an NPR station that broadcasts and/or webcasts the show.

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