In the final days of the campaign in Ohio, the stops have been pulled out in the scramble to eke out a win. And that means one super PAC calling on African Americans to vote against President Obama because Abraham Lincoln freed the slaves.
Cable viewers in several markets across the state are being treated to ads by an obscure self-described "alternative conservative" super PAC called the Empower Citizens Network. One of the group's ads accuses Obama and Democrats of imploding the economy by forcing mortgage companies to lend to "unqualified borrowers" while the Soviet national anthem plays. Another promises welfare recipients that "Republicans can save your money source" by reducing regulations on business.
And then there's the ad which one viewer told TPM is airing in the Columbus area on cable. Our source caught it a couple of times on MSNBC. That ad is the Empower Citizens Network spot that tells African Americans it's a "lie" that Democrats support them and cites the Emancipation Proclamation as evidence.
Details on Empower Citizens Network are sketchy. It was formed in June, according to its FEC filing, but its quarterly filings in July and October showed the group had neither raised nor spent any money. FEC filings made by the group last week (here and here) show it spending about $98,000 on campaign advertising in Ohio, mostly for newspaper ads.
Documents filed by the group with Time Warner Cable in Ohio identified Akron-area financial planner Bob Warther as the point of contact for Empower Citizens Network. Warther is listed as the group's treasurer in FEC filings (although it is spelled "Walther" in one letter to the FEC that he signed). Warther's office referred questions about the super PAC to Lance Davis at Akron-based Universal Marketing Industries. Davis did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
The newspaper ad taken out by Empower Citizens Network was similarly over-the-top, as described by the Toledo Blade:
Among the claims made by the ad is that the Obamas throw lavish parties at the White House for "socialist friends" that include flying in $100-per-pound Kobe beef from Japan; the President's $800 billion stimulus did not produce any net jobs, and that "this deep recession was not caused by the Bush tax cuts, Republican lax regulation, or Wall Street greed."
Empower Citizens Network's TV ad is one of a group that have emerged on the scene in the closing days of the election in Ohio, according to Kathy Kiley, who studies political ad buys at the Sunlight Foundation.
"They're a late spender, part of the October Surprise Club," she said. Public records on file with Time Warner show all of Empower Citizens Network's ad buys have been placed to cover the last week of the election.
The Empower Citizens Network ad uses some old Republican rhetoric to try and earn African American support for the GOP. "Republicans passed the Civil Rights Act while Democrats opposed it," the narrator says at one point in the Empower Citizens Network ad.
Many African American Republicans will say their party still hasn't figured out how to expand its support among black voters. John Sununu, a prominent surrogate for Mitt Romney, recently posited the Colin Powell only endorsed Obama because he's black. In Florida, a move by the Republican-led state government to eliminate early voting on the Sunday before Election Day was seen by African American churches as aimed squarely at them.
Smaller ad buys targeted at African Americans by Republicans are not only limited to Empower Citizens Network. A super PAC named Pivot Point put an ad on BET in Cleveland and Seattle this month featuring an African American calling Obama's support for same-sex marriage "a slap in the face."
Polls show African American voters have yet to be convinced the GOP is the party for them. The PollTracker Average shows Obama leading Mitt Romney by a margin of 92 to 5.5 among African American voters. African Americans voters are overwhelmingly registered Democratic, a split that's held for decades.