updated 8/21/2008 4:00:52 PM ET 2008-08-21T20:00:52

A conservative nonprofit group with a past link to Sen. John McCain's presidential campaign is spending $2.8 million on an ad questioning Democrat Barack Obama's relationship to a founder of the 1960s radical group Weather Underground.

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The ad, which is expected to begin airing Thursday in Michigan and Friday in Ohio, focuses on William Ayers, whose Weatherman organization took credit for a series of bombings, including nonfatal explosions at the Pentagon and U.S. Capitol 40 years ago.

American Issues Project, the sponsor of the ad, is a nonprofit 501(c)4 organization. One of its board members, Ed Failor Jr., was a paid consultant for McCain's campaign in Iowa last year. The campaign paid his firm $50,000 until July 2007. American Issues Project spokesman Christian Pinkston said Failor has no connection to the McCain campaign now.

Ayers is now a university professor. He and Obama live in the same Chicago neighborhood and served together on the board of the Chicago Annenberg Challenge, a charity group. Ayers also held a meet-the-candidate event at his home for Obama when Obama first ran for office in the mid-1990s.

"Barack Obama is friends with Ayers, defending him as, quote, 'Respectable' and 'Mainstream,'" the ad states. "Obama's political career was launched in Ayers' home. And the two served together on a left-wing board. Why would Barack Obama be friends with someone who bombed the Capitol and is proud of it? Do you know enough to elect Barack Obama?"

Obama has distanced himself from the radical activity of the Weather Underground. In an interview with "Fox News Sunday" in April, Obama said he "deplored" Ayers action in the 1960s.

"Mr. Ayers is a 60-plus-year-old individual who lives in my neighborhood, who did something that I deplore 40 years ago when I was 6 or 7 years old," Obama said then. "By the time I met him, he is a professor of education at the University of Illinois. We served on a board together that had Republicans, bankers, lawyers, focused on education."

On Tuesday, the University of Illinois refused to release records relating to Barack Obama's service on the Chicago Annenberg Exchange. The university said the donor of the records that document the charity's work has not yet turned over ownership rights to the material.

The university is "aggressively pursuing" an agreement with the donor, and as soon as one is finalized, the collection will be made accessible to the public, the university said in a statement.

The Obama campaign has said the senator does not have control over these records.

The ad is the first for the American Issues Project. As a nonprofit organization, the group does not have to identify its donors or the amounts they contribute. McCain in the past has criticized independent groups, even those that support him, that air negative campaign ads.

In a statement, Failor, who is executive vice president of Iowans for Tax Relief, said: "When the American public fully understands the close, continuing relationship between their potential president and a remorseless domestic terrorist, we believe it will send a chill down their spines."

Ayers was a fugitive for years with his wife, fellow radical Bernadine Dohrn. But after surrendering in 1980, the charges against Ayers were dropped because of prosecutorial misconduct.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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