AND SO IT BEGINS…. We’ve seen the McCain campaign, the RNC, and state Republican Parties take the campaign in some deeply offensive directions, but to get closer to actual swiftboating, we’d have to turn to the American Issues Project.

The other day, the independent Swift-Boating outfit American Issues Project vowed to plunk down a cool $2.8 million on a slimy and vicious ad tying Obama to former Weatherman Bill Ayers.

Such vows often can be mere bluster designed to get free media and gin up contributions. Not this time, however.

The FEC report from the group is in, and it confirms that the group did in fact plunk down the nearly $3 million to air the ad.

If you live in Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, or Virginia, you may have already seen it — and if not, you probably will sometime soon.

And just as the Swiftboat gang from four years ago had tangential-but-meaningful ties to the Bush-Cheney campaign, the American Issues Project is led in part by Ed Failor Jr., who was a paid McCain campaign consultant last year.

The Obama campaign is reportedly taking this seriously — an ad buy of this size in these states is impossible to ignore — and has a response ad that has not yet been aired.

I’d just add that when Obama withdrew from the public-financing system, he and his campaign suggested it was a necessary step, in part to help combat the “independent” right-wing groups who would likely launch swiftboat-style attack ads. At the time, there were no such groups in place, and the media scoffed at the rationale.

The argument doesn’t look nearly as baseless anymore.

Steve Benen

Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.