Alex Engler contributed research to this post.
As a nonprofit advocacy group, Crossroads Grassroots Policy Strategies may legally hide where and from whom it gets its money. But the group started by former Republican National Chairman Ed Gillespie and former President George W. Bush’s top political aide, Karl Rove, is happy to volunteer how much it’s spending on air time for advertising. It’s a smart strategy, multiplying the ads’ impact with plenty of “free media” attention and boosting the organization's reputation for influence.
Since the start of this election cycle in 2011, Crossroads GPS has put out dozens of press releases about its ad buys. We have compiled the dollar figures from its website and totaled up $85,683,000 in announced spending so far. Of that, over $64.9 million has gone or will soon go to ads exclusively targeting Barack Obama and more than $13.7 million was directed at Congressional candidates. (For $7 million, the proportions spent were not disclosed.) See the table below to explore the data.
The numbers provided by Crossroads GPS are sometimes vague. They have reported only a fraction of these ads to the Federal Election Commission, which requires a more detailed breakdown of what was spent in which race and when. That’s because spots that do not expressly advocate for the election or defeat of a candidate can be considered "issue ads," also known as “electioneering.” So long as they do not air within 60 days of a general election or 30 days of a primary or a nominating convention, they fall outside the FEC's reporting requirement.
Though Crossroads GPS is not unique in using this tactic to avoid ad reporting, they have recently raised the ire of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, which on Tuesday filed a complaint about the ads with the FEC. "Pretending these ads are not political makes a mockery of federal election and tax law," said CREW Executive Director Melanie Sloan.
A search of an unusual online database of political ads maintained by Time Warner Cable indicates that Crossroads GPS is already reserving air time in Ohio for the first two weeks of September.
Crossroads GPS is not to be confused with the affiliated and similarly-named American Crossroads, which as a super PAC must disclose its donors to the FEC. According to Follow the Unlimited Money, American Crossroads has raised $40,233,419 through the end of June and spent $11,678,768 on "independent expenditures" affecting elections.