Multimillion dollar ad campaign raises the stakes over gas prices

(CBS News) On the same day President Obama urged Congress to repeal oil subsidies, the American Energy Alliance (AEA) launched a multimillion dollar ad campaign painting the president as anti-energy and pro-high gas prices.

The campaign by the pro-oil non-profit permitted to engage in political activity elevates the profile of the debate over energy by taking it directly to voters and consumers. The $3.6 million campaign hits the airwaves in eight states across the country, and organizers say it is just the first stage of a larger effort.

The 30-second television ad, called "Nine Dollar Gas," urges viewers to "tell Obama we can't afford his failing energy policies."

The AEA is a non-profit created by the Institute for Energy Research, a pro oil-and gas-industry research and advocacy organization. Its IRS designation is a 501c4, similar to several super PACs or organizations tied to Super PACs, the independent groups which have spent millions during the 2012 campaign.

Their ad campaign is launched on the same day the president called on Congress to end $4 billion of federal subsidies for oil companies.

"I think it is time they got by without more help from taxpayers," Mr. Obama said in remarks in from the White House Rose Garden. "The oil industry is doing just fine."

The Senate voted on a measure today sponsored by Democrats that would have repealed oil subsidies, but it fell short of the 60-vote threshold necessary to move forward.

In the AEA ad, the narrator says: "Since Obama became president, gas prices have nearly doubled.... He gave millions of tax dollars to Solyndra which then went bankrupt." The ad also includes a clip of Energy Secretary Steven Chu telling a congressional committee that he doesn't own a car. (Watch the ad above.)

A fact check on energy and gas prices

The ads are running predominantly in battleground states, including Florida, Ohio and Colorado.

AEA spokesperson Benjamin Cole denied the political calculation for where the ad will run.

"We did not look at an election map, we looked at an energy map," Cole said, noting that the states the advertisement is airing are states where gas prices are high and the president has blocked oil and gas development.

However, the Democratic National Committee (DNC), is treating the ad as political and is playing defense by indirectly tying the ad campaign to Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney with a new ad titled "Remember."

DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz said during a teleconference call for reporters that "groups distorting the president's record" are also supporting "Mitt Romney who has paid their support back by pledging to protect the billions in tax breaks big oil receives."

"The sole reason for the American Energy Alliance's existence is to protect Big Oil Companies at the expense of the American taxpayer," Wasserman Schultz said. "These are companies who take in billions of dollars in profit every year from American consumers at the pump and then they turn around and take billions in taxpayer subsidies. This is not a credible organization on American energy policy."

Wasserman Schultz also highlighted the organization's connection to wealthy Republican activists, specifically the Koch Brothers -- owners of Koch Industries, a corporation working in refining and distribution of oil and gas. The Koch brothers are known to have donated to the Institute for Energy Research.

"The American Energy Alliance is a front group for Big Oil, plain and simple," Wasserman Schultz said. "There is no daylight between the Koch Brothers and the American Energy Alliance, only millions of dollars in Big Oil cash."

Cole, the AEA's spokesperson hit back, saying there is "very little daylight between Debbie Wasserman Schultz and George Soros." Soros is a wealthy Democratic donor and activist.

Cole told Hotsheet that the Koch brothers are not behind this ad campaign.

"This ad was not funded by the Koch organizations," Cole said. "It is a lie to suggest otherwise."

Cole said the multimillion dollar ad campaign is only part one of a multi-pronged approach to attack the president and his energy policies, which will include additional advertising in additional states and a "grassroots" campaign.

  • Leigh Ann Caldwell On Twitter»

    Leigh Ann Caldwell is a political reporter for CBSNews.com.

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