“We are still very early in the cycle, with virtually all of last year and the first quarter dedicated to framing legislative and regulatory issues with conservative messaging,” said Jonathan Collegio, a spokesman for the Crossroads groups. “As we approach the elections, more of our expenditures will be political and election-focused.”
The Post analysis included spending on ads since the start of the 2012 cycle that mentioned Obama or the general election, but not ads that were aired as part of the Republican primary contest.
In addition to spending by Crossroads, top expenditures on anti-Obama issue ads include $7 million from Americans for Prosperity, a conservative group with ties to oil billionaires Charles and David Koch; $3 million from the American Future Fund, a nonprofit conservative group based in Iowa; and at least $3.3 million from the American Energy Alliance, a group supported in part by the energy industry.
Liberal groups have spent little in comparison. The Environmental Defense Fund and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees have each spent about $1.1 million on ads related to the presidential general election, the data show. Most of the money on the left, particularly from labor unions, is expected to be spent on grass-roots organizing rather than advertising.
Benjamin Cole, communications director for the American Energy Alliance, said the estimated $4 million that the group has spent on television, radio and Internet ads “is just a fraction of what we’re expecting to spend” by November. He said the group is proud that it “fired the jump ball for the general election” with an ad running in 10 swing states that criticizes Obama’s energy policies and warns of $9-a-gallon gasoline.
“Almost overnight it became Barack Obama and Mitt Romney on energy,” Cole said. “There’s no problem with that. We want the conversation about energy, and we’re happy to keep that conversation going.”
Nonetheless, Cole said, the group’s aims are primarily educational and nonpartisan. He noted that the group has criticized Romney, giving him its “Dim Bulb Award” last week for saying in 2003 that coal energy “kills people.”
Watchdog groups have long complained about a lack of disclosure by tax-exempt advocacy organizations, and Democrats have pushed for stronger requirements. Last month, a federal judge in Washington ordered the FEC to write tougher disclosure rules for nonprofits that run ads within 60 days of an election, but it’s unclear whether the agency will act on the matter before November.
Much of the advocacy spending related to the presidential election will go undocumented until 2013, when interest groups file their annual reports with the IRS.
Super PACs also have come under fire for transparency because many donations to the groups are from entities that are hard to trace. Restore Our Future, a pro-Romney super PAC that has raised $52 million, said it would revise its FEC disclosures this week after news organizations questioned a $400,000 donation linked to a defunct company address.
Spokeswoman Brittany Gross said the listing was the result of a “clerical error.” She said the filing will be updated to show a pair of $200,000 contributions from Gerald and Darlene Jordan, who were hosts of a recent fundraiser for Romney at their home in Palm Beach, Fla.
Staff writer T.W. Farnam contributed to this report.