12/07/2012 06:28 pm ET Updated Dec 08, 2012

Fiscal Cliff Ad Wars Pit Labor Coalition Against Karl Rove's Dark Money Group

WASHINGTON -- The lobbying battle over federal budget priorities heated up this week, as two powerful factions announced major TV ad campaigns aimed at shaping public opinion on the "fiscal cliff" debate and pressuring lawmakers on Capitol Hill. Both ads are slated to run for a week, and each group plans to spend around $500,000 on the effort.

One ad comes from a coalition of labor unions and progressive groups led by the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), the National Education Association and the Service Employees International Union. It calls on members of Congress to protect Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and education funding from cuts proposed by Republicans.

The other ad is a product of GOP strategist Karl Rove's "dark money" nonprofit, Crossroads GPS. It accuses President Barack Obama of having failed to propose any "real spending reforms" and urges viewers to call the White House to demand the president offer a "balanced plan."

The Crossroads ad started running on cable news channels on Thursday, while the labor unions' ad will run in Ohio, Missouri, Montana and Virginia beginning Monday.

Chris Fleming of AFSCME said the latest ad buy, the second by the union coalition in recent weeks, is part of a multilevel effort to remind key lawmakers that cuts to social safety net programs would have a disastrous impact on seniors and those living below the poverty line. He said, "We've chosen to run these ads to specifically target four lawmakers" -- Democratic Sens. Mark Warner (Va.) and Claire McCaskill (Mo.), and Republican Reps. Denny Rehberg (Mont.) and Pat Tiberi (Ohio). All four are considered centrists and potentially influential players in the deficit debate during Congress' lame-duck session.

Watch the unions' ad:

The Crossroads ad makes no mention of Congress, instead targeting President Obama directly.

Crossroads GPS President and CEO Steven Law said the White House "has shown it is not serious about the debt, as it has yet to propose significant spending cuts to go along with its massive proposed tax hikes." He added that "serious revenue concessions have been made" by congressional Republicans, "but Obama won't take yes for an answer."

Watch the Crossroads ad:

In addition to running on cable news, the Crossroads ad will air this weekend on broadcast TV's Sunday morning talk shows, whose audiences tend to be very well informed politically. Large by any standards, the ad buy offers a window into how the politically active nonprofit intends to participate in the national debate following November's election, in which the group backed Republican congressional and presidential candidates who suffered near-total defeat. Crossroads GPS and its affiliate PAC, American Crossroads, spent more than $175 million on the 2012 campaign.

Although heavily outspent by the Republican team, labor unions, by contrast, managed to leverage their significant organizational advantage into a decisive win for Obama and Senate Democrats. Building on this strength, the union coalition plans to hold a nationwide "Day of Action" on Monday during which, Fleming said, thousands of people will peacefully protest cuts to social safety net programs.

Republican-allied groups like Crossroads have had more trouble organizing grassroots support during the deficit debate, their efforts hampered in part by Republican House Speaker John Boehner's refusal to consider increasing taxes on the top 2 percent of earners. To make up for lackluster energy on the ground, fiscally conservative groups like the privately funded Campaign to Fix the Debt have relied on CEOs and retired government officials to make their case to the national media.

While the warring ads will run for only a week, there are few signs that either side plans to pack up and go home should Congress and the White House fail to reach a deal by Dec. 31, triggering the fiscal cliff of spending cuts and tax break expirations.

Fleming of AFSCME said, "For us, the presidential campaign didn't end on Nov. 6, and the campaign to protect American families won't end on Jan. 1. We'll remain on the side of working families as long as it takes."



What Could Fall Off The Fiscal Cliff