(The Secret Money blog is a joint project of the Center for Investigative Reporting and National Public Radio.)

The one form of political advertising that’s completely unregulated and free is the speech of an individual citizen, even when money amplifies that speech by putting it on the airwaves. Tim D’Annunzio, who describes himself as a “concerned North Carolina businessman,” is doing just that. The former defense contractor has produced several hard-hitting ads against Obama with now-familiar themes: Taxes, Abortion, Rev. Wright and Bill Ayers.

The only ad we know is running on TV (below) hits Obama on taxes. In it, D’Annunzio says he was living below the poverty line a decade ago, but built his company, Paraclete Armor & Equipment, into a workforce of hundreds. He says Obama’s “promised tax increases will devastate people like me, by taking more than half of my business profits. This will force me to cut jobs and increase prices.”

A former Army parachute jumper, D’Annunzio founded Paraclete to make body armor for the military and law enforcement. It provides equipment for troops in Iraq and Afghanistan and makes millions from defense contracts.

The company received more than $26 million in federal contracts since 2001, mostly from the Air Force, according to the government database USASpending.gov. About $2.6 million of the contracts were awarded without competition. In addition, in 2006 the company received a $3.5 million loan from the Agriculture Department’s Rural Business-Cooperative Service. In 2005, it received a $293,000 loan from the Small Business Administration.

Paraclete gave $2,000 to Swift Boat Veterans for Truth in 2004.

A larger, public company, MSA (Mine Safety Appliances Co.), bought Paraclete for $30 million in 2006. (When D’Annunzio says he would have to lay off workers under Obama’s tax plan, it’s not clear what company he’s talking about. We were unable to contact him.)

D’Annunzio’s other ads are on his Web site. In one, he criticizes Obama’s “ultra-liberal stand on abortion” and says, “As a Christian, I cannot vote for Barack Obama.” Another focuses on former Weatherman radical Bill Ayers; D’Annunzio says, “I cannot vote for Barack Obama because of his association with terrorists.” Yet another skewers Obama for his former pastor Rev. Jeremiah Wright, and shows Obama without his hand over his heart during the national anthem. “We can’t afford a president that uses racially charged comments to divide us,” D’Annunzio says.

North Carolina has somehow become a home base for Obama-bashing independent operators. If you have any insights into why this is, we’d love to hear them. Besides D’Annunzio, the state is home to the Committee for Truth in Politics and RightChange.com, two of the biggest-spending conservative groups on the air.

We’ll see soon enough how much money D’Annunzio is willing to commit.


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