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Group led by Obama supporters chooses Gingrich, Romney as first targets

A shadowy political action group formed by two key supporters of President Barack Obama has chosen to use its first ad to attack former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney by using the words of former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich.

On its sparse website, Priorities USA Action notes that it is “an Independent Expenditure PAC that supports candidates who will advance policies that provide the strongest and most sound outcomes for middle class families.” The organization was one of two — the other being “Priorities USA” — that were formed earlier this year by former Deputy White House Press Secretary Bill Burton and former senior adviser Sean Sweeney

Priorities USA Action is a political action committee, or 527 in the tax code, that was organized for election influencing. Priorities USA, which has been far more controversial in Democratic circles, is a 501(c)4 that is not required to disclose its donors.

While such shadowy groups are not new. A similar conservative organization with strong Iowa ties, the American Future Fund spent millions to influence voters in the lead up to the 2010 elections, a large chunk of the money against U.S. Rep. Bruce Braley (D-Waterloo) in Iowa’s 1st District. What is somewhat new is the move by Democrats to take advantage of the tax distinction that allows for direct voter influence without contribution accountability.

Some see the move by Democrats into this type of hidden advocacy as a way to level what’s become an uneven political playing field. Others, however, believe that such election activity should not be employed because it is inherently unethical and does not provide a clear picture to voters as to who and what interests are hoping to sway their opinions.

In late April, when Priorities USA was formed, Burton and and Sweeney penned a memo to key Democratic activists and strategists in an effort to explain that however unsavory the use of a shadowy group may seem, Democrats must provide tit-for-tat.

“Our groups were formed to answer the hundreds of millions of dollars Karl Rove and the Koch brothers have dedicated to spending in the 2012 election. In 2010, Republicans spent millions distorting the debate on important issues and running vicious, dishonest attack ads. This is an effort to level the playing field and not allow right-wing activists to hijack the political system,” the men wrote.

American Crossroads, founded by former President George W. Bush political adviser Rove, and Americans For Prosperity, founded by billionaire oil brothers David and Charles Koch, are hidden-donor groups in addition to the American Future Fund that spent heavily in last year’s elections. All have pledged to invest millions in 2012 to defeat Obama and other key Democrats throughout the country.

The first ad offering by the group is attributed to Priorities USA Action, which must disclose its donors, and focuses on statements made by Gingrich during a Meet the Press segment. During the show, Gingrich described the Medicare overhaul offered by U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.) and approved by House Republicans as “radical” and a form of “right-wing extremism.”

Romney initially said that “he was on the same page” with Ryan in terms of the overhaul, but during a later policy speech in Michigan indicated that his ideas were similar but not identical with Ryan’s. The ad states: “With Mitt Romney, you have to wonder: Which page is he on today?”

Watch the ad:

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