WASHINGTON -- Barack Obama's campaign is increasingly concerned about whether anticipated spending by third parties -- known as "527s" -- for John Edwards and Hillary Rodham Clinton for television spots will hurt him in Iowa and the other early-voting states.
On Friday, Obama sent an e-mail to supporters deploring third-party spending for ads, mailings and phone calls.
On Saturday in Iowa, Obama urged Edwards to denounce a group run by his 2004 campaign manager, Nick Baldick, that is working on Edwards' behalf. In the days before the Jan. 3 Iowa caucus, Obama is looking over his shoulder at Edwards.
Third-party spending -- supposed to be done independent of and without being coordinated with a campaign -- is potentially most useful to Edwards because he has raised less money than Obama and Clinton.
Spending by these groups --called 527s because of the section of the IRS code they operate under -- is controversial because the donors don't have to be revealed in any timely way. A 527 can produce campaign material for a candidate or against a rival.
The Obama campaign said Edwards needed to demonstrate he was trying to reduce the influence of this kind of money in politics. "You can't just talk the talk," Obama said.
Edwards, campaigning in Coralville, Iowa, did call on 527s to stay out of the contest.
He was asked: "Why won't you now call on the 527 run by your former campaign manager to not run ads and to disclose donors?"
Edwards responded: "I do ... I don't have any direct control over it because the law requires that I stay out of it. But I would encourage all the 527s, not just this one, but all the 527s to stay out of it, but I have no legal authority over that."
The reference by Edwards to "all" of the 527s is to major assistance Clinton is indirectly getting from Emily's List, the nation's largest political action committee, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, and the American Federation of Teachers.
The Chicago political consulting firm Adelstein Liston is media adviser to AFSCME, Emily's List and the AFT.
The power of a 527 in a presidential campaign was first demonstrated in 2004, when under then-new McCain-Feingold campaign finance laws, an anti-Howard Dean, pro-Dick Gephardt group, Americans for Jobs, Healthcare and Progressive Values, ran ads Dec. 5 to Dec. 19, the beginning of Dean's downfall.
The spokesman for the group was Robert Gibbs, who went on to become Obama's Senate and presidential communications chief.