IOWA CITY — Conservative-aligned special interest groups have purchased more than 2,480 Iowa television ads, seeking to promote their agenda for the 2012 presidential election in two of the state's largest media markets.
Outside organizations advocating for limited government and lower taxes have launched a pre-emptive counter-attack on President Obama.
Conservative political action committees, or PACs, account for more than half of the $1 million spent by outside groups on political TV advertising during the past five months in the Des Moines and Cedar Rapids media markets, according to an investigation by IowaPolitics.com.
"Fourteen million out of work, America drowning in debt, it's time to take away Obama's blank check," the narrator says, in "Shovel Ready," an ad by Crossroads GPS.
The Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit that espouses limited government, low taxes and individual responsibility has spent more than $250,000 in two major Iowa TV markets.
Crossroads GPS, founded in part by Republican strategist Karl Rove, is tied to super PAC American Crossroads and has spent more than any other interest group active in the 2012 election.
Super PACs were made possible by the U.S. Supreme Court's Citizens United decision in 2010, which allowed unlimited spending by corporations, unions and individuals through these organizations, as long as the groups do not coordinate their spending with the candidates.
Strong America Now, a debt reduction nonprofit, promotes its plan for "restoring America's future," in ads highlighting the Lean Six Sigma approach to cutting waste in government by running the nation more like a business. The group has spent more than $73,000 in the two media markets.
Every Republican presidential candidate but former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney has signed the group's pledge to apply their Lean Six Sigma approach to trimming the deficit, so the 190 ad spots do not endorse a particular presidential hopeful.
The ad, "Our Debt & Our Future," showed a baby crawling with shackles on its feet, representing the debt load carried by each American.
"Strong America Now has a proven plan to protect future generations," the narrator says in the 30-second spot.
Conservative political action groups Citizens United, a national nonprofit dedicated to citizen control of government, and the Coalition for American Jobs, a super PAC supported by chemical and oil lobbies, have each invested close to $75,000 to attack Obama's economic record in major Iowa TV markets.
However, spending totals from outside interest groups are significantly lower at this point in the election cycle than they were four years ago, said John Huff, general sales manager at KWWL-TV 7 in Waterloo.
"There's some speculation that since the Republican Party has really had a hard time figuring out who the front-runners are for candidates, maybe issue groups or special interest groups are kind of holding their money," Huff told IowaPolitics.com.
Polling among Iowa Republicans typically shows a large number of voters are "undecided" about whom they will support in the Jan. 3 Iowa caucuses.
Huff said interest groups may be "waiting in the wings to see who the front-runners are going to be, then spend their money or provide their support at that time."
One candidate, Texas Gov. Rick Perry, has a super PAC running ads on his behalf, in addition to the spending by his campaign. While Perry's campaign must file disclosure reports about its donors, his super PAC, Make Us Great Again, has no such obligation under federal law.
Make Us Great Again has touted Perry's Texas roots and conservative credentials in 357 60- and 30-second ad spots, costing more than $149,000.
Democrats, knowing their candidate will be Obama, recently launched a strike on Iowa TV against Romney, likening one of the top contenders for the Republican nomination to "two men in one body" for his shifting policy positions.
In total, the Democratic National Committee has invested more than $13,000 in the Des Moines and Cedar Rapids media markets for 45 spots.
Two of the largest non-candidate entities pouring money into TV advertising are the National Popular Vote Movement, a campaign to do away with the primary and caucus nominating system in favor of a popular vote process, and American Petroleum Institute, an energy industry group.
The National Popular Vote Movement has pushed its issue in 200 spots costing more than $100,000.
Iowa Republicans and Democrats largely oppose the movement, which would eliminate Iowa's first-in-the-nation caucuses.
However, former Democratic Gov. Chet Culver in May endorsed the National Popular Vote Movement.
The American Petroleum Institute has invested more than $92,000 to fight against "job-destroying energy taxes" and promote domestic energy exploration.
Hannah Hess and Lynn Campbell cover government and politics for IowaPolitics.com, which is owned by the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity.