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In a switch, some campaign ads press the positive

WASHINGTON — Outside political groups, long known for their darkly negative advertisements, are trying something new this campaign season: a pivot to the positive.

Some of the best-known super PACs — like Americans for Prosperity, which is backed by conservative billionaires David H. and Charles G. Koch — are making an effort to also cast their candidates in an appealing way instead of solely attacking opponents. This year, 16 percent of Americans for Prosperity’s spots have been positive; in 2012, the group did not run a single one.

The shift is the product of several factors — the renewed hope that positive commercials can break through the advertising clutter; lessons of the 2012 presidential race, when Mitt Romney and outside Republican groups largely failed to offer an alternate message to an onslaught of negative spots; and the increasing prevalence of stock footage made public by campaigns that makes producing positive ads a bit easier.

By one group’s estimate, 29 percent of the spots by Karl Rove’s American Crossroads and Crossroads GPS, its affiliated nonprofit group, have had a positive spin this year; at the same point in 2012, the group had run no positive spots, and during the entire previous cycle, the group produced only three positive ads.

In all, 29 percent of the total spots by outside groups have been positive this election cycle, compared with the 20 percent that carried a positive message at the same point in 2012, according to Kantar Media/CMAG, which tracks every political ad on broadcast or national cable television.

Super PACs are not totally rewriting their campaign playbooks. Negative advertising works, and after the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision in 2010, which paved the way for unlimited spending by outside groups, they have largely considered themselves masters of the dark arts, preferring to leave the positive messages to the candidates themselves.

But with a historic barrage of outside groups’ money pouring into crucial states and districts across the country, the all-negative, all-the-time approach seems to be changing, especially during the early months of campaign season.

“Super PACs can do positive ads to counter the negative ads that are being run by other super PACs,” said Fred Wertheimer, president of Democracy 21, a campaign finance watchdog group. “Positive ads by outside spending groups may well be run to counter the impact of all that negativity.”

“This is an arms race,” he added, “and people have to respond.”

—Ashley Parker, The New York Times

Taxi driver charged in $28,000 toll fraud

NEW YORK — Back and forth the driver went. A thousand times over the Robert F. Kennedy Bridge. Three thousand trips through the Queens-Midtown Tunnel. Each time without paying a toll. It might sound like the fever dream of a New York City car commuter.

It was, the authorities said, the reality for one taxi driver who for nearly two years sneaked through toll plazas by “piggybacking” on the driver in front of him and pocketing payments totaling more than $28,000.

Queens prosecutors on Thursday charged the driver, Rodolfo Sanchez, 69, with grand larceny, theft of service and criminal possession of stolen property for a scheme that began in August 2012 and ended Wednesday at 3:40 p.m. It is not a new way to get something for nothing, the authorities said, but no single driver appeared to have ever been caught making quite so many free trips.

“This type of behavior is egregiously unfair to the millions of honest motorists who pay tolls every day,” Donald Look, the chief of security for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority Bridges and Tunnels, said in a statement.

Sanchez said he got the idea, according to prosecutors, by watching other drivers doing the same trick: tailgating a car and slipping through the tollbooth before the barrier came back down. From that point, Sanchez told investigators, he was “able to cross without making toll payments,” according to the complaint.

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which manages both crossings and conducted the investigation into Sanchez, declined to discuss how many New Yorkers try to beat the toll in this way — the equivalent of squeezing into a subway turnstile with an unsuspecting paying rider. “We certainly don’t want to encourage people to do this,” said Judie Glave, a spokeswoman for the authority.

“I needed the money for my family,” he is said to have told investigators.

—J. David Goodman, The New York Times

Move to ban recalled GM cars from roads is denied

General Motors won a significant round Thursday in the escalating legal battles over its handling of a defective ignition switch in millions of its small cars, avoiding an order that would have effectively taken the cars off the road.

The ruling came in a lawsuit filed by Charles and Grace Silvas over compensation for the lost value of their 2006 Chevrolet Cobalt, which was recalled along with 2.6 million other cars that have a faulty switch.

The plaintiffs asked Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos of U.S. District Court in Corpus Christi, Texas, to force GM to instruct owners not to drive the cars until they were repaired. But the judge denied the motion, saying the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the federal agency that regulates the nation’s roadways, had primary jurisdiction over the issue.

“The court is of the opinion that NHTSA is far better equipped than this court to address the broad and complex issues of automotive safety and the regulation of automotive companies in connection with a nationwide recall,” Ramos wrote.

GM had vigorously fought the motion for a so-called Park It Now alert, saying it was unnecessary and would “confuse consumers and result in regulatory chaos.”

—Hilary Stout, The New York Times