U.S. Rep. John Spratt said he hasn't seen the TV ad that depicts him dancing in a chorus line with President Obama and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
Or the one that shows his face next to red letters that spell "Ouch."
But Spratt says he's well aware of the impact third-party TV ads could have in his 5th Congressional District contest against Republican challenger Mick Mulvaney, and in other races around the country.
"This can't be taken in the long run as a good thing for either party," he said in an interview. "We don't need any more money in American politics from unidentified sources. There's more than enough already."
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Political spending on TV ads is expected to hit $3 billion by election day, surpassing the previous highs of $2.7 billion in 2008 and $2.4 billion in 2006.
Spratt and lawmakers from battleground districts are finding themselves besieged like never before.
Viewers in media markets across the 14-county 5th District are seeing ads funded by groups with names such as "Americans for Prosperity," "Citizens for Working America" and "Hope Growth Opportunity."
The ads criticize Spratt for his votes in favor of health care reform, the stimulus package and Wall Street ethics reform, among other topics.
Many are funded by conservative groups from other states.
For example, an Iowa-based group called American Future Fund has aired a 30-second ad against Spratt that cost $179,000, according to a report in The Washington Examiner.
Another group, Americans for Limited Government of Fairfax, Va., dispatched a field worker to the district several weeks ago to stir up conservative opposition and organize grassroots efforts.
Other groups do not disclose how much money they are spending, making it difficult to determine the scope of the efforts.
In an interview last week, Mulvaney said he hasn't been impressed by the quality of the third-party ads. The Indian Land businessman called them ineffective.
"If you look at the presentation and the style... I don't think can-can girls influence undecideds," he said, referring to the chorus line dancers in the anti-Spratt ad. "Does it fire up the base? Sure. I got news for you, my base has been fired up for a long time."
Corporate spending up
The ads were made possible by the recent Supreme Court ruling that rejected corporate spending limits in elections, said Scott Huffmon, a political scientist at Winthrop University.
A divided court ruled in January that the government cannot ban political spending by corporations in candidate elections.
"The Citizens United decision really opened the floodgates on the possibilities for these groups," Huffmon said. "We could see this coming as a result of that decision as well as this being a race with a longtime Democrat that has been pegged as a toss-up."
Spratt said he supported a bill that would have required groups to disclose information about their donors. The bill passed the House but was blocked by Republicans in the Senate.
"Once the donors who seek anonymity figure out how the system works, they'll probably get even bolder," Spratt said. "I fear to think what the consequences could be - just an enormous barrage of money."
While generally not decisive, third-party ads can affect the thinking of some undecided voters, said Bob Oldendick, a political scientist at the University of South Carolina.
Spratt has traditionally enjoyed a big advantage in television advertising across his sprawling district. Past challengers struggled to raise enough money to buy ads in the Charlotte, Columbia, Florence and Greenville-Spartanburg media markets.
This year, the York Democrat enjoys a large cash-on-hand advantage, with $1.2 million compared to $772,694 for Mulvaney, according to the most recent campaign filings.
But many voters don't distinguish between ads run by candidates and those funded by outside groups, Oldendick said.
"The impact of the ads is not that great, since they are a small piece in the overall puzzle of available information," Oldendick said. "But to the extent they have an impact on the undecided voters, it will likely be pushing them toward Mulvaney."