Former US President Barack Obama is calling on South Carolina television stations to stop running an ad from a pro-Trump super PAC that uses his words out of context in a misleading attack on former Vice-President Joe Biden.
The Committee to Defend the President, a group devoted to supporting Trump, reported to the Federal Election Commission spending more than US$250,000 in South Carolina to oppose Biden.
The group, which paid for a similar amount of anti-Biden advertising in Nevada earlier this month, circulated an ad that falsely suggests that words Obama spoke in the narration of his own book were meant to describe Biden.
"This despicable ad is straight out of the Republican disinformation playbook, and it's clearly designed to suppress turnout among minority voters in South Carolina by taking President Obama's voice out of context and twisting his words to mislead viewers," said Katie Hill, Obama's communications director.
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"In the interest of truth in advertising, we are calling on TV stations to take this ad down and stop playing into the hands of bad actors who seek to sow division and confusion among the electorate."
Hill said Obama has "several friends" in the Democratic presidential primary, "including, of course, his own esteemed Vice-President." She said Obama still has "no plans to endorse in the primary."
In an attempt to sway black voters in the state, the ad begins with a narrator saying "Joe Biden promised to help our community. It was a lie. Here's President Obama."
The ad then runs audio of a tape of Obama reading from an unrelated passage from his 1995 book, Dreams from My Father, about a conversation he had with a barber in Chicago when he was a community organiser.
The Obama passage, which describes the mistreatment of black voters by politicians, refers to complaints about "plantation politics" and the history in Chicago of Democratic politicians expecting black votes despite poor housing, poor job opportunities and police brutality.
The ad repurposes a similar attack the Committee to Defend the President ran last year in several states with many black politicians, including Georgia, Michigan and Louisiana, according to PolitiFact. Similar tactics, aimed at decreasing black turnout for Democrats, were used in a radio ad by another pro-Trump super PAC, Great America Alliance, in the 2017 special House election in Georgia.
"Donald Trump and his allies are absolutely terrified that Joe Biden will defeat him in November," said Andrew Bates, as spokesman for the Biden campaign.
"Trump even got himself impeached by trying to force another country to lie about the Vice-President. This latest intervention in the Democratic primary is one of the most desperate yet, a despicable torrent of misinformation by the president's lackeys."
Separately, Republican activists in South Carolina have boasted about a plan called "Operation Chaos" to encourage supporters of Trump to vote for Senator Bernie Sanders in Sunday's primary. The South Carolina GOP has cancelled the state's Republican primary this year.
The Committee to Defend the President, which grew out of a group called Stop Hillary PAC, traditionally raises its money in increments of US$5000 or less, according to Federal Election Commission records. The group has reported spending US$655,285 on television advertising, US$279,800 on voter phone contact, and US$144,657 on online voter contact since the beginning of 2019.
The group spent about US$250,000 on a Spanish language ad before the Nevada caucuses attacking Obama and Biden for not passing immigration legislation.
"They separated families and put children in cages," says the narrator in Spanish in that spot, appropriating a Democratic critique of Trump's immigration policy.
Ted Harvey, the chairman of the Committee to Defend the President, defended the ad in a statement.
"It took President Trump to lower black unemployment and create jobs for the African-American community, in addition to passing criminal justice reform," Harvey said in the statement.
"Joe Biden, on the other hand, is simply giving lip-service for votes. That's the point President Obama made in his book, and we have every right to use his own words — in his own voice — in the political forum."