The issue-advocacy group Vets for Freedom officially launched a $1.5 million ad campaign on Wednesday, touting of the Iraq surge policy and pushing a not-so-subtle dig at Barack Obama.
"We changed strategy in Iraq, and the surged worked," says the spot, a spliced testimony of more than a dozen veterans. "Now that is change you can believe in."
And yet, despite hitting the airwaves in Ohio, Virginia, Michigan, New Mexico, and Pennsylvania, and looking to expand even further, the group refused to reveal exactly who was funding its effort, citing no legal obligation to do so as a 501c4.
"I don't want to have to print out names of thousands of Americans for everyone to dish through," said Pete Hegseth, executive director for Vets for Freedom, "nor have they signed on saying this is something we have to disclose."
Hegseth insisted that the group was funded by thousands of backers, primarily through the Internet. Another official posited that groups like Vets for Freedom never offer such levels of financial disclosure. But the refusal of VFF divulge any details including, for example, the size of the largest donation, will undoubtedly fuel speculation that the organization is operating as a front for McCain-backing conservative financiers.
There is already concern within Democrat circles that like-minded advocacy organizations will be the central actors in GOP attacks. As evidence, they note several ties between Vets for Freedom and the McCain campaign. Sens. Joseph Lieberman and Lindsey Graham both hold chairs with the Arizona Republican's candidacy and served on VFF's board of advisers before stepping down due to the campaign's conflict of interest policy.
On Tuesday, moreover, it was reported that VFF's ad buy in Virginia was for a slot that McCain had just vacated. Democrats pounced on this as potential evidence of an illegal coordination of efforts and a stain on the Senator's reputation of standing up to interest groups. Vets for Freedom call the ad slot sequence a "complete coincidence."
Whether in cahoots with McCain or not, the group has clearly not shied away from taking jabs at Obama. In late May, VFF put out a web advertisement ripping the Senator for not meeting combat veterans, not traveling to Iraq in more than two years, and not sitting down with Gen. David Petraeus. On Wednesday, Hegseth criticized Obama not just for calling for an Iraq withdrawal, but also for not meeting with a member of his group: "Senator Obama was indeed in his office and we tried to get a meeting for more than a month. We never were able to and when our veterans went there they weren't allowed a meeting. They met with a low-level staffer."
UPDATE: The Washington Post reports (as emailed out by the Obama campaign) on another instance that seemed like collaboration between Vets for Freedom and the McCain camp.
Today... there appears to be another, similar coincidence in the way Vets for Freedom's ads are going up, just as McCain's ads are going down. According to a Democratic media firm, Vets for Freedom purchased advertising time in three Michigan television markets, Flint, Grand Rapids and Traverse City, covering July 10 to July 16. At the same time, the McCain campaign decreased its advertising in those three markets for the period from July 8 to July 14.
Coordination between the group and the campaign would be illegal.