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Agence France-Presse

Outside Cash Leaves Scorched Earth in US Campaign

Stephen Collinson

This image from the Americans for Prosperity website is called "obama_sinister.jpg". Expensive, bombastic political ads are hardly new to American politics, but independent groups - not openly linked to the political parties - can now suck up unlimited corporate cash, and spill it on elections, without revealing the source of their largesse. (Original image source: unknown)

WASHINGTON — Nerve jarring music races to a crescendo, shadowy
pictures flash across the screen, and in doom-laden tones, a narrator
warns: "Obama -- he promised change... now he's desperate, on the

This is not the inspirational candidate who moved
thousands to tears at his Chicago victory party, nor the one who tilted
at history with the most impressive legislative record of any Democratic
president for decades.

This is President Barack Obama through the
eyes of "Americans for Prosperity," a group lambasted by Democrats
since a Supreme Court decision opened a spigot of outside spending on
next month's mid-term elections.

Expensive, bombastic political
ads are hardly new to American politics -- both sides of the political
aisle fling half truths and explosive claims across television screens
every election season.

But Democrats, fearing heavy losses in
Congress due to the sluggish economic rebound and high unemployment, are
crying foul this year, after the Court rulings dismantled a raft of
restrictions on corporate spending.

Independent groups -- not
openly linked to the political parties -- can now suck up unlimited
corporate cash, and spill it on elections, without revealing the source
of their largesse.

Conservative groups currently dominate the
spending binge -- profiting from Republican grass roots anger over the
Obama administration ahead of November 2 polls in which Democrats fear
heavy losses.

The Americans For Prosperity ad is, in fact, a
riposte to Obama's own claims that no one knows who the group is or how
it is financed.

"Who is he afraid of? Americans For Prosperity? People like you?" the hard-hitting ad run by the activist group says.

by the non-partisan Center for Responsive Politics, which tracks
campaign spending, shows conservative independent groups have splashed
out 25.8 million dollars on advertising since September 1, compared to
5.6 million dollars by liberal groups.

Detractors argue that the
benign names of some groups, like "Americans for Prosperity," "Americans
for Job Security" and "Working America" belie the nakedly partisan
nature of their advertising.

"You know, they call themselves
'Americans for Apple Pie' or 'Moms for Motherhood' -- and then they use
their voice to drown out yours," Obama quipped in September.

campaign finance laws, corporations or individuals are limited in how
much they can give each candidate -- but since the Supreme Court ruling,
there are no such curbs on how much a group can spend on ads under its
own banner.

This Democrats say, is unfair and means big
corporations can remain anonymous and swamp the voice of the average
voter at the polls.


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Republicans charge corporations as well as
individuals have a right to free speech, and point to heavy labor union
financing of Democratic campaigns.

In Nevada, Democratic Senate
Majority leader Harry Reid is desperately trying to cling on to his
seat, against Republican Sharron Angle, a favorite of the conservative
Tea Party movement.

American Crossroads, a group for which former
George W. Bush political guru Karl Rove raises money, has stepped in
with a hard-hitting ad.

Shots of the Democratic veteran are
juxtaposed with a lacerating script: "Bailouts, deficits, Obamacare...
haven't you done enough?"

Though such ads steal headlines, David
Damore, a professor of political science at the University of Nevada,
Las Vegas said the group's work on the Republican ground game may
actually have more impact than the air war.

"Rove's group is doing
a lot of turnout -- there is a real Republican disadvantage (in that
area) in the state right now," Damore said.

Some experts believe
independent groups may be most effective in House races where
electorates are smaller and a sudden cash boost can tilt the scales.

Virginia, Democrat Rick Boucher is in danger of losing a seat he has
held for years. He is known as a conservative Democrat but Americans for
Job Security is shackling him to House speaker Nancy Pelosi, a hate
figure for Republicans.

"Boucher has failed to protect our jobs -- now it is time Rick Boucher loses his," an ad says.

describes itself on its website as an "independent, bi-partisan,
pro-business issue advocacy organization" but does not disclose donors,
saying its membership could be misinterpreted by politicians or the

In its counter attack, the White House has highlighted the
reports that the US Chamber of Commerce, which leans Republican, has
used funds from foreign funds for electoral campaigning.

The Chamber denies the charges, but the White House is demanding proof.

has also weighed in: "This is a desperate and I think disturbing trend
by the president of the United States to tar his political adversaries
with some kind of enemies list," he told Fox News Sunday.

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