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Not that it matters much, but which is spending more, the pro-Romney Crossroads GPS or the pro-Obama Priorities USA?

By on July 7, 2012

After yesterday’s jobs numbers landed, the RNC and NRCC were quick to respond with web ads. But the biggest news today is that Karl Rove’s Crossroads GPS is putting $25 million behind this nine-state ad attacking Obama on the economy.

The substantial buy comes a day after Jim Geraghty looked at the FEC numbers since January and found that the pro-Obama Super PAC Priorities USA was outgunning the pro-Romney side:

[There is] a two-to-one spending ratio of liberal anti-Romney efforts to conservative anti-Obama efforts. In fact, the president’s allies run the single biggest-spending and most negative super PAC of all: Priorities USA Action, founded by Obama’s former deputy White House press secretary, Bill Burton; Sean Sweeney, the former chief of staff to Rahm Emanuel; and Harold Ickes, who was deputy chief of staff to President Bill Clinton. This super PAC has spent $13.5 million in opposition to Romney so far, outspending all the super-PAC efforts opposing the president combined. While Priorities USA Action is often described as a “pro-Obama” super PAC in news coverage, it has yet to spend a single penny that it categorizes as “supporting” President Obama; all of its spending is classified as “opposing” Mitt Romney.

Benjy Sarlin took issue with Geraghty’s numbers:

[W]hile the National Review mocks Democrats for making a bogeyman out of American Crossroads, their myopic focus on super PACs leaves out their anonymous money machine sibling, Crossroads GPS. That group spent $24 million on a single ad buy in May, matching the Obama campaign’s first big ad campaign dollar for dollar, and almost single-handedly closing the super PAC gap cited by National Review.

Geraghty defended himself by distinguishing between the two kinds of outside groups active in this election cycle:

As some media have pointed out, “American Crossroads is a super PAC, but Crossroads GPS is a 501(c)(4) nonprofit ‘dedicated to educating, equipping and engaging American citizens,’ according to IRS filing.” Unsurprisingly, some media accounts conflate the two groups. As the Congressional Research Service notes, “Super PACs must follow the same reporting requirements as traditional PACs. This includes filing statements of organization and regular financial reports detailing most contributions and expenditures.”

“Issue ads” and other forms of political advertising may not be included in the FEC filings because groups themselves define whether an ad “opposes” or “support” a particular candidate. And it’s fair to argue that what some groups call “issue ads” come right up to the line of being what most viewers would consider a campaign ad. Unfortunately, classifying whether a group’s spending really does count as supporting or opposing a candidate would mean reviewing everything they do, a task beyond even my abilities. Short of that, we can look at what they’re telling the Federal Election Commission and work from there.

That makes sense regarding the specific focus of Geraghty’s original piece, but spending by 501(c)(4)’s certainly counts when it comes to voter perception of the candidates. Jaime Fuller is worried about the aerial view:

National Review only covered outside spending on the presidential campaign—not on state and local races. But congressional and state races are where conservative outside groups truly have liberal groups beat. The top Republican-leaning outside groups plan to spend $1 billion in 2012, and the bulk of that money is going to go toward winning Congress—not the White House. Labor unions, on the other hand, are expected to spend between $200 to $400 million on Democratic campaigns. Priorities USA only plans to spend $100 million by November, and they are by far the biggest Democratic-leaning outside group.

Meanwhile, Robert Draper pens a fascinating profile of Priorities USA and its attempt to take on its conservative rivals. Here’s a look at how their strategy was conceived in contrast to that of Rove’s Crossroads GPS:

Having conceded the arms race before it even began, the Priorities team recognized that its only hope lay in asymmetrical warfare. Making a virtue of their relative puniness, Begala told me: “Karl’s trying to be too comprehensive, playing in too many places on too many levels. He believes in throw-weight, the way the Soviet space program worked: they believed in brute force, while we believed in precision and perfection.” Priorities would be selective in its ad buys. Knowing that Obama had to keep Pennsylvania in the win column, it would reach for undecided voters in the Pittsburgh exurbs instead of playing in the expensive Philadelphia market. Similarly, Priorities would not bother trying to persuade the elderly (a group whose low support for the president has seemed immovable) but would instead pursue more promising demographic targets (non-college-educated young women in the suburbs, working-class Hispanics in Florida and the West). The pro-Obama super PAC would take dead aim at these very specific pockets of swing voters.

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