Anti-Obama ad in The Sun draws fire

The advertisement made many harsh accusations against Obama and the Democrats.

President Barack Obama delivers the eulogy during funeral services for U.S. Senator Edward Kennedy at the Basilica of Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Boston, Massachusetts, Saturday, August 29, 2009.

The Associated Press
Published: Tuesday, September 1, 2009 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Monday, August 31, 2009 at 11:32 p.m.

A newspaper advertisement blaming President Barack Obama and Democrats for wrecking the economy is receiving complaints from some area readers and raising questions about the organization behind it.

"Barack Obama and the Democrats did not inherit the bad economy; they caused it and made it worse," read the full-page ad, which ran Monday in The Gainesville Sun and last week in the Ocala Star-Banner. The ad also has run in other newspapers nationwide, including the Fort Worth Star-Telegram and Salt Lake Tribune.

The ad, a membership plea from the U.S. Citizens Association, alleges that high-profile Democrats caused the subprime mortgage crisis and consequently the recession. It also makes a variety of claims about health care reform, global warming legislation and other liberal policies.

Steven Thames, 31, of Gainesville, said he and three of his family members are canceling their Sun subscriptions as a result of the ad. He questioned both the ad's similar appearance to a news story and the claims it made.

"It's just filled with blatant lies," he said.

Susan Pinder, director of sales and marketing for The Sun, said in an e-mail that any ad resembling editorial content must state "advertisement" at the top. This ad had the word "advertisement" at the top in smaller type.

The paper reserves the right to edit or omit any ad, and an internal committee reviews questionable ads, she said.

"A lot of latitude is given to advocacy ads," she said.

The Akron, Ohio-based group behind the ad formed earlier this year under the name the Better Government Association. It changed its name when an 86-year-old Chicago organization with the same name sued.

Calls to the 800 number listed on the ad were received at a call center of InfoCision, an Akron-based telemarketing company. Employees of the center said they did not have a phone number for the U.S. Citizens Association but provided a list of company officials and board members.

The list included Executive Director Lance Davis, a former InfoCision marketing director; Benjamin Suarez, founder of a direct marketing company; and Herschel Gammill and Wayne Maddy, pastors of Ohio churches. A story on the Huffington Post Web site said Ed Rollins, a longtime Republican political consultant who chaired Mike Huckabee's 2008 presidential campaign, also was affiliated with the group.

Calls made and e-mail messages sent to those and other individuals associated with the group were not returned as of late Monday.

Ads from nonprofit groups involving issues don't carry the same reporting requirements as ads promoting candidates, said Dan Smith, an associate professor of political science at the University of Florida and interim director of its Political Campaigning Program.

Groups promoting candidates have requirements to file public disclosure forms listing donors and other information. Nonprofit groups are required only to file tax forms affirming their nonprofit status and do not have similar obligations involving contributors, Smith said.

"There's a lot of latitude in terms of issue advocacy," he said.

The association also is running television advertisements. Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, a nonpartisan watchdog group, sent a letter last week to MSNBC asking that it pull one of its ads because it violated Federal Communications Commission restrictions on false or misleading advertisements.

Spokeswoman Naomi Seligman said the group later found that a local affiliate, not the national network, was responsible for running the ad.

The U.S. Citizens Association's own Web site said the Wall Street Journal, CNN and MSNBC rejected its ads. The site seeks contributions to keep the group's messages on the air and in print.

"Your generous media contribution will allow us to continue to put the heat on the socialist policies of the Obama Administration and Congress," the site said.

The group's claims about the subprime crisis target Democratic support of the Community Reinvestment Act and other policies encouraging home ownership.

UF economic department Chairman Jon Hamilton, who endorsed Obama during the campaign, said the act involved banks and not companies such as Countrywide Financial that he said were more responsible for the crisis.

The ads also "don't mention the person who was most proud about raising the rates of home ownership: George Bush," Hamilton said.

Thames said he was disappointed to see claims in the ad that he said were false about a major portion of union dues being given to the Democratic Party. He said his political affiliation had nothing to do with his being upset about inaccuracies.

"I'm not a Democrat by any means," he said. "What I am is an informed citizen."

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