Outside Groups Increase Campaign Spending

By CBS News correspondent Cynthia Bowers and producer Phil Hirschkorn

With only ten days to go before Election Day, the airwaves are saturated with commercials for and especially against candidates running for Congress. And the spending, particularly by outside groups is reaching record heights.

Florida Democrat Suzanne Kosmas is running for a second term in Congress, but none of the ads running against her on Orlando TV stations are paid for by her opponent.

Instead, independent groups with conservative leanings, such as the business-backed U.S. Chamber of Commerce, have spent more than a million dollars on ads depicting Kosmas as a liberal tool of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

"Kosmos and Pelosi - an economic wrecking crew," says the ad from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

'I was in fact ranked one of the 10 most moderate members of the U.S. House of Representatives," said Kosmas.

Central Florida is typical of the unprecedented spending by outside groups this campaign year, on track to total $5 million.

"It's very clear that the conservative groups have the upper hand by more than a two to one margin," said Sheila Krumholz, executive director for the Center for Responsive Politics.

Democrats do have three big spending unions on their side. With an $88 million campaign budget, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees tops all independent spenders with ads such as the one targeting Sharron Angle, the challenger to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.

"Sharron, you're too dangerous to have real power," said the ad.

View AFSCME Ad

One of the most active conservative groups is American Crossroads, co-founded by former Bush adviser Karl Rove, spending $50 million to target Democrats.

"The operating principle this year is that any dollar you spend on positive advertising is a dollar wasted," said Larry Sabato of the University of Virginia.

As a political action committee, American Crossroads is required to disclose its donors. Other groups that are non-profits are permitted to keep their donors secret, like American Action Network, whose ad mocked incumbent Washington Senator Patty Murray, a Democrat famously elected in 1992 as a "mom in tennis shoes."

"Then, you wore your tennis shoes out on our backs," said the ad.

View American Action Network Ad

"The biggest change this year is that for the first time ever, we don't know the identity of people giving millions," said Sabato.

That change troubles campaign watchdogs, who say disclosure is key to knowing who is trying to influence politicians.

"More and more of the money appears to be kind of under the water, under the radar, away from our ability to scrutinize," said Krumholz.

One winner of these ad wars may be TV stations charging a premium for air time.

"They were charging in September what they would normally get the week before Election Day for advertisements," said Erica Franklin Fowler of Wesleyan University.

Advertisements we can tune out in 10 days.
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