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MoveOn.org Preps Ads With A Little Help From Its Friends

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With 'Bush in 30 Seconds,' liberal group gets public to share the load

MoveOn.org Voter Fund, the advertising wing of the liberal political-advocacy group, is ramping up efforts to attack President Bush with a new ad airing in swing states, an online contest to find a homemade commercial to broadcast this month and a plan to join forces with a larger coalition.

MoveOn.org and other advocacy groups are expected to play a critical role in the 2004 election because of financial contributions made to them thus far.

MoveOn.org has used the Internet to mobilize some 2.4 million members with a grassroots model of discourse that some believe could change the very structure of American politics and political marketing. Financiers George Soros and Peter Lewis have pledged to match every dollar MoveOn.org raises, up to $5 million.

The group last week kicked off a $1.2 million buy for a TV spot, done in-house, titled "Rugs-Boots." The ad focuses on the impact the new prescription-drug bill, signed into law in December, may have on seniors. It depicts Bush pulling the rug out from under them and their medical and prescription-drug care. The ad will air on network broadcast in Florida, Nevada, Ohio and West Virginia through Jan. 19 and on national cable.

In the 30-second spot, a man reacts well to a headline that reads, "Bush Medicare Bill Passes." An announcer says, "Seniors who thought the Bush prescription-drug bill would really help them are in for a big surprise," as the sound of cowboy boots is heard walking across a floor. Later, an elderly couple is seen reading the same paper. "Instead of standing up for seniors ... George Bush sided with the drug companies who'd given him huge contributions," the announcer says, as the spot cuts to a close-up of boots with "GWB" embroidered on them. A hand is then seen pulling a rug out from under the couple.

The tagline reads, "George Bush. He's pulling the rug out from under Medicare."

The group plans to run another spot during the week of the president's State of the Union Address, scheduled for Jan. 20. Sources said the ad will show what the group thinks a president should say during such a speech.

Meanwhile, MoveOn.org plans to team up with the Campaign for America's Future, a liberal group that is challenging the administration's policies on domestic issues such as healthcare and social security.

MoveOn.org's novel approach to political organizing is also seen in a unique advertising contest it is sponsoring. In December, the group called for submissions of original TV commercials focusing on President Bush, with the promise of airing the winner. Eli Pariser, MoveOn.org Voter Fund's campaign director, said the group will pay between $100,000 and $1 million to broadcast the winning ad.

The "Bush in 30 Seconds" contest drew 1,500 submissions. Some 120,000 MoveOn.org members voted online to determine 15 finalists. Roughly one-third of the final spots question Bush's Iraq policy. Another third criticize his position on spending and tax cuts. Some challenge him on issues of freedom and civil liberties. Others focus on children and the future that Bush is handing them. Many of the ads accuse the president of telling various "lies" to the American public.

Pariser said the contest is about "tapping into the enormous pool of talent outside of the Beltway. The finalists spots are totally unlike the usual ads we see leading up to a presidential election."

The winner will be announced tonight by filmmaker Michael Moore at a ceremony in New York emceed by actress Janeane Garofalo. The judges include actors Jack Black and Jessica Lange.

The contest was the subject of controversy last week when Jewish groups and the Republican National Committee sharply criticized two entries that compared Bush to Adolf Hitler. The ads were later removed from the organization's Web site, along with all the other entries that did not make the final 15.

Following calls for an apology from RNC chairman Ed Gillespie and organizations such as the Simon Wiesenthal Group and the Anti-Defamation League, MoveOn.org founder Wes Boyd issued a statement saying the group regretted that the ads slipped through the screening process. He said they were in "poor taste" and acknowledged deep "regret." Pariser said they had been screened by volunteers.

RNC rep Christine Iverson charged MoveOn.org with believing it is appropriate to air ads that constitute hate speech. "Democratic presidential candidates need to be asked, 'Do you agree with MoveOn.org? Is this type of speech beyond the pale?' " she said. "If they disagree with it, they should speak up. If they don't say anything, then that clearly demonstrates something."