527s impact elections

Nov 052006
Authors: Brandon Owens

The letters in your mailbox and the ads on TV and radio come from different groups. These groups hope to make sure their work will change voters’ opinions in the days before elections.

Robert Duffy, a political science professor, said these interest groups, known as 527 groups, are focusing on the “ground war,” which consists of political advertising through mail and volunteer work as opposed to the “air war,” which consists primarily of television advertisements.

“People are more likely to vote how they’re asked to vote if they know the person,” Duffy said.

When deciding where to put their money, 527’s focus on the close races where they can make a difference, Duffy said.

“Of the 435 congressional elections, maybe 50 or 60 will be close,” he said. “The others are safe seats.”

Duffy, who did research on the 2004 election, explained that 527 groups have changed their tactics based on how effective the strategy worked in the previous election.

“Six years ago, nobody talked about 527’s,” Duffy said. “The tactics are always different.”

Jimmy Dillon, a junior economics major, says that the political advertising associated with 527s primarily affects “swing voters” or voters who haven’t made up their mind and that it doesn’t affect his opinions.

“I don’t support it personally,” Dillon said. “I think it’s a waste of money.”

Their impact recently caused some conflict in the 4th Congressional District race when Republicans accused a Democratic committee of illegally coordinating political spending with U.S. Representative hopeful Angie Paccione’s campaign and the 527 group Coloradans for Life.

Both Paccione and Coloradans for Life denied the accusations, but 527 groups remain a hot topic.

Duffy said 527s are attacking each other, too.

He said one 527 group, New West Fellowship Group, sponsors a Web site, www.bothwaysbob.com, which attacks the Trailhead Group, another 527 group and a supporter of Colorado gubernatorial candidate Bob Beauprez.

“They try to create an image in people’s minds of Bob as a flip-flopper,” Duffy said. “I would expect to see a lot more of this in the future.”

Duffy and Kyle Saunders, an assistant professor in the political science department, do research on campaign finance and work with the Center for the Study of Elections and Democracy. They researched the impact of 527 groups in the campaign for Colorado’s 7th Congressional District in 2004.

They kept track of every type of political advertisement, which even included direct mail, e-mail and Web sites. They then entered the information into a data base which went into a much larger study.

“It was kind of fun to see who had been involved in the campaign,” Duffy said. “It was fun to compare other states with Colorado.”

He explained that 527 groups usually want something out of the government and that they support candidates that will be sympathetic to their desires.

Sarah Smith, a junior biological sciences major, said the millions of dollars being spent to sway her opinion is sad.

“I think we could really use (that money) elsewhere,” she said.

Staff writer Brandon Owens can be reached at news@collegian.com.

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