The word on the street (K Street) is that cash from 527 group coffers will start to flow online just as the broadcast ad ban hits, 60 days prior to the election. Dollars from these tax-exempt issue advocacy and voter mobilization organizations have already begun to trickle toward the 'Net, albeit tentatively. Prominent groups like America Coming Together and The Club for Growth, as well as lesser-knowns such as The Committee for the Advancement of Stem Cell Research, are poised to--or are currently running--Web ad campaigns.
America Coming Together (ACT), a 527 group aiming to boot out the Bush administration and elect Democrats in 2004, was set to launch ads yesterday on CNN.com, MSNBC.com, MSN's Slate, Time.com, NYTimes.com, and The San Francisco Chronicle's SFGate.com, according to Malchow Schlackman Hoppey & Cooper, the agency that developed the campaign. A recipient of Soros Fund philanthropy, ACT has also been running an Ultramercial campaign on Salon.com to collect names, contact information, and donations from interested parties. Viewers watch the full-page video ad in exchange for access to Salon content.
Law prohibits the growing legion of 527 groups, classified under section 527 of the Internal Revenue Code, from running broadcast ads referring to a federal candidate 60 days before a general election--unless paid for by money raised and disclosed under the federal campaign finance system. However, there are loopholes that bode well for newspaper, Internet, and direct mail media.
"There's always money left for the final push," affirms Matt Leonardo, partner at Alfano-Leonardo, a Republican communications consultancy that works with organizations including The Institute for Legal Reform and The Republican Leadership Council of New Jersey. "It's inevitable that campaigns and committees will find a way to promote their message. The Web is a gaping hole for them."
Leonardo predicts that advertising online, especially after the 60-day mark, is "in the playbook for many 527 groups." He estimates that such organizations are spending about seven to eight percent of their overall campaign budgets on the Web. Many political pundits estimate that one to three percent of all political campaign dollars, including those of the candidates' campaigns, will be spent online in the coming year.
Information gathered from Nielsen//NetRatings shows that MoveOn.org, a left-leaning group defined as a 501c under the tax code, ran 50,000 ad impressions in May 2004 and 34,000 impressions the week of June 7th on RollingStone.com. The group is affiliated with the MoveOn.org Voter Fund, a 527 organization.
DearMary.com, a pro-gay marriage project of DontAmend.com and The Equality Campaign, Inc. that draws attention to Vice President Dick Cheney's openly gay daughter, Mary, and her role as Director of Vice Presidential Operations for the Bush-Cheney re-election campaign, launched animated Flash ads on June 21 in conjunction with Gay Pride week. Scheduled to run until the middle of this week, the ads have run on The Onion as well as on a pop-up ad network, according to Roger Stone, president and CEO of consulting firm Advocacy Inc., the firm that placed the ads. The ads also ran on washingtonpost.com, where they were specifically targeted to .gov domains in an effort to target administration personnel.
Large Flash ads for a coalition of environmental groups called The Partnership Project ran for six weeks until June 29, and coaxed viewers to "Tell the Bush Administration to clean up mercury pollution." The main goal of the ads, which were geo-targeted to key battleground states, was to prompt people to submit their email addresses from directly within the ad. Both DearMary.com and The Partnership Project are running ads on blog sites through the Blogads network. The popular left-wing blog Daily Kos currently hosts an ad for not-for-profit 527 political action committee WeCount.org. Ads for DearMary.com and The Committee for the Advancement of Stem Cell Research, a 527, can be seen on another left-wing screed site, The Smirking Chimp.
The Club for Growth, a 527 advocating fiscal conservatism, is contemplating running ads on blogs that focus on economic issues, as well as on more pricey sites like NewsMax.com, FoxNews.com, and RushLimbaugh.com, according to the organization's Executive Director, David Keating. "I can't say I've been all that impressed with the Web as a medium," Keating concedes. But he still plans to continue to invest money online to promote The Club for Growth "as long as we can show in the back end that it makes sense."