The Supreme Court’s 5-4 ruling in Citizens United v. FEC decided that the First Amendment right of free speech should apply with little distinction to both individuals and corporations. Since Buckley v. Valeo established money as a form of speech, the Court’s decision allows for corporations to donate unrestricted funds from their general treasuries to political organizations, effectively overturning decades of state and federal campaign finance laws. Fearing effects of greater corporate influence in American public life, Justice Stevens in his dissenting opinion warned that corporations can “amass and deploy financial resources on a scale few natural persons can match,” and are not “themselves members of ‘We the People’ by whom and for whom our Constitution was established.”
Although corporations now have a constitutional right to contribute money to independent expenditure groups, these groups are not bound to publicly disclose the sources of their funding. Even though the majority opinion in Citizens United actually upheld Congress’s right to enact disclosure laws, claiming that such “transparency enables the electorate to make informed decisions” without “impos[ing] a chill on speech or expression,” 501 (c)4 and (c)6 organizations that do not disclose their financial backers are increasingly engaging in political work.
While we do not know who is funding such organizations, we do know that the groups playing a larger role in the 2010 elections are overwhelmingly backing right-wing candidates. According to Time pro-Republican groups could spend as much as $300 million for the 2010 election. Many of the organizations almost exclusively supporting pro-corporate politicians never even have to report where their funding comes from. According to the Sunlight Foundation, “about 52 percent of the money spent so far on everything from political ads to phone banks to fliers promoting or opposing federal candidates has come from groups that don’t disclose the sources of their funds.” Corporate dollars are also financing many Tea Party and other conservative “grassroots” organizations, giving “Astroturfing” an even more prominent role in American politics.
Citizens United and related judicial and administrative decisions have also allowed for the emergence of so-called Super PACs, which can take in unlimited amounts of money from corporations and individuals. A number of the new political organizations have been exposed as front groups for the energy and insurance industries, and new revelations reveal that some groups bankrolled by corporations even receive substantial funding from federal government contractors and foreign businesses. As of mid-October, the ten biggest independent expenditure groups have already “aired 60,052 ads since the beginning of August.”
Legislative remedies such as the DISCLOSE Act will bring more transparency to the process, but leave corporate involvement in electoral politics mostly intact. Due to the sweeping language of the Supreme Court’s ruling in Citizens United, only a constitutional amendment can overturn the decision.
This report looks into the groups, empowered by the Citizens United decision, that are propagating their pro-corporate agenda. Many originated in the aftermath of Citizens United and directly point to the ruling as essential to their founding; others have been active for years but have gained new prominence as a result of the decision. What they all have in common is a relentless desire to discredit progressive ideas and elect pro-corporate candidates to office across the country. As discussed below, they also share an alarming level of dishonesty and distortion.
Common Thread of Misleading Ads
Not only are huge amounts of corporate and special interest money being poured into the elections this cycle, but the ads being underwritten are irresponsibly deceptive. As Greg Sargent writes in The Washington Post, “the sheer scale and dimension of dishonesty and distortion coming from the conservative” groups is both astonishing and irresponsible. PolitiFact even declared that ads “from ‘super PACs’ and other political groups targeting the 2010 midterm election are overwhelmingly spreading exaggerations and falsehoods.” Indeed, television stations in Pennsylvania, Illinois, and Kentucky have already refused to run attack ads which are patently false. Unfortunately, however, due to the enormous amount of spending by pro-corporate groups, many of the distortions and mistruths found in these ads will go mostly unchallenged before voters go to the polls.
The fourteen groups profiled in this report frequently employ the same dishonest, deceptive, and misleading claims in their ads, which are bankrolled by multimillionaire donors and corporations, and in some cases, secret donors. Especially with respect to health care reform, energy reform, and budget and jobs issues, the common thread of deception is apparent.
Health Care Reform
Critics of health care reform frequently claim that the law will reduce Medicare benefits for seniors, cut Medicare funding, create a government-run health care system, and fund drugs for erectile dysfunction to registered sex offenders. However, FactCheck said that such contentions are “badly misleading” as none of these assertions are accurate:
- The AARP maintains that the reform law actually lowers costs by closing the doughnut-hole in the prescription drug benefit plan, and that the law does not cut benefits or increase “out-of-pocket costs for Medicare services.”
- According to PolitiFact, health care reform does not cut $500 billion from Medicare, but does restrain “the growth in Medicare spending by more than $500 billion over 10 years.” Therefore, Medicare benefits won’t be reduced, and the savings will come from cuts in waste, restructuring the program, and alterations in payment plans.
- Many critics of reform say that the new law leads to “government-run” health care or the “government takeover” of health care. However, FactCheck points out that the law preserves the private-sector insurance system and “doesn’t come anywhere close to a system in which the government is the insurer or provider of health care. Instead, the law keeps the country’s primarily private health insurance system in place — in fact, it creates a lot more business for private insurers since it requires individuals to have a policy.”
- One of the most offensive and ludicrous allegations, one levied most notably by the American Action Network, is that health care reformuses taxpayer money to subsidize drugs like Viagra for sex offenders and rapists. In the Senate, Tom Coburn of Oklahoma proposed an unserious Amendment with the sole purpose of derailing the bill. FactCheck claims that “there’s nothing in the legislation that supports, requires or even mentions such prescriptions,” and Political Correction said the charge is “outrageously deceptive.”
American Clean Energy and Security Act
Right-wing groups argue that the American Clean Energy and Security Act, which includes the “Cap and Trade” provision, would create a new energy tax, destroy job growth, and lead to skyrocketing energy costs for families. But studies show otherwise:
- Republican contentions that the law would increase energy costs for American families by over $3,000 point to a MIT study. However, John Reilly of MIT who conducted the analysis maintains that the GOP’s interpretation of his report is “just wrong” and a “misrepresentation” of his study by wildly exaggerating the costs to each family.
- According to PolitiFact, if the bill becomes law, low-income families will see lower energy costs while the average consumer will pay “about 22 to 30 cents a day,” or one postage stamp a day.
- A study by the University of California-Berkley found that the bill would neither destroy the economy nor hamper job growth. In fact, “full adoption of the ACES package of pollution reduction and energy efficiency measures would create between 918,000 and 1.9 million new jobs, increase annual household income by $487-$1,175 per year, and boost GDP by $39-$111 billion.”
- PolitiFact makes clear that the “Cap and Trade” provision in the American Clean Energy and Security Act does not lead to energy taxes: “calling it a ‘energy tax’ is not an accurate way to describe the measure.”
Debt, Budget Deficits, and the Stimulus Plan
Many ads by independent expenditure groups suggest that Democrats in Congress and President Obama are almost-wholly responsible for the national debt and the budget deficit. The stimulus plan is knocked for wasting billions of dollars, doing nothing to combat job losses, and financing bizarre scientific studies instead of putting people back to work. However, such charges distort the facts about the history of the country’s budget woes and the record of the stimulus plan:
- President Obama was left with a record budget deficit created by the Bush administration. On January 7, 2009, the CBO estimates that the Bush administration left the country with an astounding “$1.186 trillion budget deficit for fiscal year 2009” even though Bush “inherited a record surplus from President Clinton.”
- The national debt is not a result of the actions of either the Obama administration or Congressional Democrats. While President Clinton put the country on the path towards paying off the national debt, President Bush’s tax cuts alone “directly added $2.5 trillion to the national debt in the full 10 years that they have been law.” PolitiFact confirms that “when Bush took office, the national debt was $5.73 trillion. When he left, it was $10.7 trillion.”
- Most economists agree that the Stimulus Plan was successful in preventing an economic meltdown and saving millions of jobs. Prominent economists Mark Zandi of Moody and Alan Blinder of Princeton in their comprehensive report claim that the Stimulus Plan is responsible for “raising 2010 real GDP by 3.4%, holding the unemployment rate about 11.5 percentage points lower, and adding almost 2.7 million jobs to U.S. payrolls.”
- Groups have misleadingly claimed that officials who voted for the Stimulus wanted to finance studies on “ants” and “cocaine” instead of creating jobs. However, the stimulus plan simply provided funding to the National Science Foundation, which later funded an array of peer-reviewed scientific studies. Members of Congress did not vote to specifically fund any particular projects.
60 Plus Association
AZ-01; AZ-05; AZ-07; AZ-08; FL-02; FL-04; FL-24; IN-02; MN-01; NY-01; NY-20; OH-16; PA-03; PA-10; PA-11; TN-08; WI-03; WI-08
Jim Kuhnhenn of the Associated Press reported that 60 Plus “is spending more than $4 million against nine House Democrats: Arizona’s Ann Kirkpatrick, Harry Mitchell and Gabrielle Giffords; Florida’s Allen Boyd, Suzanne Kosmas and Alan Grayson; Pennsylvania’s Kathy Dahlkemper and Paul Kanjorski; Indiana’s Joe Donnelly, and Ohio’s John Boccieri. It also is airing an ad against Tennessee’s Roy Herron, a Democrat seeking to fill an open seat.” Most recently, 60 Plus launched a $435,000 ad campaign against Chris Carney of Pennsylvania, in addition to a $550,000 in negative ads against Scott Murphy and $230,000 for ads against Tim Bishop, both New York Democrats. In Wisconsin, the group is spending $540,000 against Ron Kind and $110,000 against Steve Kagen. Their latest attack ads target Jim Oberstar of Minnesota and Raul Grijalva of Arizona, and they have spent well over $6 million so far in this election to help Republicans.
Founder and Chairman James “Jim” Martin was honored by the right-wing Human Events newspaper as “The Man Who Put Death Tax on the Political Map,” after he coined the phrase “death tax” during the debate over the estate tax. When he worked for Republican Congressman Ed Gurney’s successful campaign for the US Senate in 1968, Martin gave George W. Bush “his first job” and Bush later gave him the nickname “Buddha.” Martin became the vice president of conservative activist Richard Viguerie’s direct mail firm, a centerpiece of right-wing electioneering that has also done work for 60 Plus. Most recently, he joined the Tea Party Express Bus Tour, where he criticized Rep. Steve Cohen for “shamelessly pander[ing] to the African Americans in his congressional district by charging the Tea Party folks with being ‘racist,’” and promised “political pain at the polls in 2010” to supporters of health care reform.
An unapologetic proponent of privatizing Social Security, Martin referred to privatization as “the way of the future,” and wrote in 2001 that Social Security was “a burden, not a blessing” and an “antiquated relic of a bygone era.” 60 Plus is the self-declared “conservative alternative” to the AARP, which Martin refers to as the “Association Against Retired Persons.”
60 Plus supports the DeMint and Ryan proposals to privatize (“personalize”) Social Security; blamed “enviros” for the BP Gulf Oil Spill; says the American Clean Energy and Security Act will have a “serious negative impact” on seniors; believes that abolishing the Estate Tax for the wealthy will “help Katrina victims,” and argued that health care reform will be the “death knell” of senior citizens.
The 60 Plus Association is a 501(c)4 organization founded in 1992. In 1999, it joined the corporate front-group Citizens for Better Medicare, which aggressively lobbied against prescription drug benefit legislation. Citizens for Better Medicare received the majority of its funding from Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA) and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
60 Plus was named one of PhRMA’s “stealth PACs” by Public Citizen, and 60 Plus does not have to disclose its donors to the public. In 2003, Pfizer paid the disgraced firm Bonner & Associates to lobby against prescription drug plans in Minnesota and New Mexico, which in turn used 60 Plus as a front group to directly advocate against the proposals. 60 Plus has also been tied to Jack Abramoff and his illegal lobby practices.
The new ads focus on the purported $500 billion “cut” from Medicare. The Medicare “cut” actually represents significant savings through reducing waste, subsidies, and overpayments as part of health care reform, and PolitiFact writes that the “government-run Medicare program will keep paying medical bills for seniors.” According to the AARP, “none of the health care reform proposals being considered by Congress would cut Medicare benefits or increase your out-of-pocket costs for Medicare services” and that “rather than weaken Medicare, health care reform will strengthen the financial status of the Medicare program.”
American Action Network & American Action Forum
FL-SEN; NH-SEN; WA-SEN; WI-SEN; AR-01; CO-07; CT-04; CT-05; IL-10; IN-02; MA-10; MI-07; MN-01; NH-02; NM-01; NV-03; OH-06; OH-12; OR-05; PA-07; PA-12; SD-At Large; VA-05; VA-09; VA-11; WA-08; WI-08; WV-01
The American Action Network targeted key US Senate races and launched ads opposing Paul Hodes of New Hampshire, Patty Murray of Washington, Russ Feingold of Wisconsin and Charlie Crist of Florida. They have spent close to $900,000 against Paul Hodes in New Hampshire and $750,000 attacking Patty Murray in Washington, and hopes to spend approximately $25 million altogether in 2010. Along with attack ads, the American Action Network ran positive ads backing GOP incumbents Dave Reichert of Washington and Pat Tiberi of Ohio.
Most recently, the American Action Network has joined American Crossroads and the Commission on Hope, Growth, and Opportunity as part of what the Wall Street Journal calls a “$50 million advertising blitz” to influence a “few dozen competitive races where Democratic candidates have significantly more money in the bank than their Republican opponents.” These ads are attacking Democratic Congressmen Jim Himes and Chris Murphy of Connecticut; Ed Perlmutter of Colorado; Joe Donnelly of Indiana; Mark Schauer of Michigan; Tim Walz of Minnesota; Martin Heinrich of New Mexico; Dina Titus of Nevada; Charlie Wilson of Ohio; Kurt Schrader of Oregon; Mark Critz of Pennsylvania; Stephanie Herseth Sandlin of South Dakota; Tom Perriello, Rick Boucher and Gerry Connolly of Virginia, and Steve Kagen of Wisconsin. In addition, the American Action Network is running ads opposing Democratic candidates Chad Causey of Arkansas; Dan Seals of Illinois; Bill Keating of Massachusetts; Ann McLane Kuster of New Hampshire; Bryan Lentz of Pennsylvania; Mike Oliverio of West Virginia.
Former Republican US Senator Norm Coleman and McCain-Palin policy advisor Douglas Holtz-Eakin founded the American Action Network, the 501 c4 political arm, and the American Action Forum, a 501 c3 organization designed to be a conservative think tank. The American Action Network’s President is the former chief of staff to House GOP Whip Eric Cantor. Other leading right-wing figures involved in the group’s establishment include Fred Malek, the Finance Chair of McCain-Palin ’08 and a longtime Republican fundraiser; Robert Steele of Goldman Sachs and Wachovia; tobacco heir C. Boyden Gray; and Home Depot founder Kenneth Langone. Other board members of the two groups include former RNC head Ed Gillepsie, RGA chief and Governor Haley Barbour (R-MS), former Governors Jeb Bush (R-FL) and Tom Ridge (R-PA), former Senators George Allen (R-VA) and Mel Martinez (R-FL), and former Congressmen Jim Nussle (R-IA), Vin Webber (R-MN) and Tom Reynolds (R-NY).
Norm Coleman explicitly pointed to the Citizens United decision as a reason for the American Action Network’s ability to emerge this election year, saying that it “greatly enhanced” the group’s fundraising. Moreover, the group does not have to disclose the identity of its donors to the public, and sees left-leaning groups such as the Center for American Progress and Democracy Corps as models. While the American Action Network focuses primarily on political advertisements attacking Democrats, the American Action Forum concentrates on policy work and polling competitive congressional districts. The sister organizations concentrate on the traditional conservative criticisms of health care reform, Wall Street reform, and the Obama administration’s handling of the economy.
The negative advertisements attacking Democratic Senate candidates are centered on the issues of economic policy and spending. The American Action Network launched its premier negative ad against Patty Murray of Washington (Norm Coleman’s former aide is the campaign manager for Sen. Murray’s Republican opponent, Dino Rossi). In the ad, the narrator says Murray wore her “tennis shoes out on our backs” and shows a woman walk over a man, woman and child, claiming that she “raised taxes on small businesses” and “cost us jobs” without citing any specific legislation. However, the Senator had a perfect 100% rating from the National Association of Small Businesses and even at times voted the same way as Norm Coleman on small business legislation. The American Action Network’s ad against New Hampshire’s Paul Hodes incorrectly claims that the American Clean Energy and Security Act would raise energy prices and kill jobs. The ad against Russ Feingold of Wisconsin absurdly blames the Senator for the nation’s $9 trillion debt, even though the group supports the Bush-era policies that produced huge deficits and increased the debt.
The American Action Network’s ad hitting Nevada Rep. Dina Titus shows an online video chat between two women, where one asserts, “apparently convicted rapists can get Viagra paid for by the new health care bill…. Viagra for rapists, with my tax dollars?! And Congresswoman Dina Titus voted for it.” Ads using the same charge have been used against Congressmen Chris Murphy, Jim Himes, and Charlie Wilson. This charge is a result of an attempt by Oklahoma Republican Tom Coburn to pass an Amendment to stop health plans from subsidizing drugs that treat erectile dysfunction to registered sex offenders. However, this was not a serious Amendment, but actually a procedural ploy to make the language of the Senate bill different from the House bill, and therefore derail the legislation. FactCheck described a different ad making the same accusation “bogus,” and dubbed it a “false and misleading ad.”
American Crossroads and Crossroads GPS
AR-SEN; CA-SEN; CO-SEN; FL-SEN; IL-SEN; KY-SEN; MO-SEN; NH-SEN; NV-SEN; OH-SEN; PA-SEN; WA-SEN; CA-03; FL-22; HI-01; IN-02; NY-25
American Crossroads and its sister organization, Crossroads Grassroots Policy Strategies (GPS), is on the air in almost every top-tier Senate race. The two groups have so far raised $32 million and plan on raising a combined $52 million before Election Day. Recently, American Crossroads and Crossroads GPS pledged to spend $10 million in fifteen or more competitive congressional races.
American Crossroads and Crossroads GPS have spent close to $10 million and almost $8 million, respectively, as of October 14. They have targeted nearly all of the most vulnerable incumbent Democratic Senators: Colorado’s Michael Bennet, Nevada’s Harry Reid, Arkansas’ Blanche Lincoln, and Washington’s Patty Murray. The two groups have also aired ads against Senate hopefuls Robin Carnahan of Missouri, Rep. Paul Hodes of New Hampshire, Rep. Joe Sestak of Pennsylvania, Charlie Crist of Florida, Jack Conway of Kentucky, Lee Fisher of Ohio, and Alexi Giannoulias of Illinois. In House races, American Crossroads is currently airing ads attacking Democratic Congressmen Ron Klein of Florida, Joe Donnelly of Indiana, and Dan Maffei of New York, along with Democratic House candidates Ami Bera of California and Colleen Hanabusa of Hawaii who are challenging Republican incumbents.
Notorious Bush adviser and Republican strategist Karl Rove founded American Crossroads, and he overtly named Citizens United as responsible for their fundraising prowess. Ed Gillespie, the former chair of the Republican National Committee, is also a key figure in the founding of American Crossroads. Another former RNC head, Mike Duncan, is the group’s Chairman, and Steven J. Law of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce is its President and CEO.
Other staff members from GOP network include: Carl Forti of the Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign and the National Republican Congressional Committee is the Political Director; RNC policy aide Steven Duffield is the Issues Director; the deputy research director of Romney’s campaign Chris McInerney is the Research Director, and the NRCC’s Jonathan Collegio is the Communications Director.
Of the $32 million raised between the two groups, American Crossroads GPS gathered the bulk of the funds. Crossroads GPS is a 501(c)4 “social welfare” organization that is not obligated to disclose sources of its funding to the public; American Crossroads, on the other hand, is a 527 organization that is required to report its donors to the FEC because of its express advocacy in federal elections. Crossroads GPS has come under fire from clean-campaign groups, who maintain that Crossroads GPS was unlawfully “organized to participate and intervene in the 2010 congressional races while providing donors to the organization with a safe haven for hiding their role.”
Politico reports that Crossroads GPS plans to spend “$18 million on ‘issue advocacy,’ $15 million on ‘targeted grassroots advocacy,’ $3 million on ‘issue research,’ $2 million on polling and $5 million buying, renting and enhancing lists.” The twin-groups are also preparing “a monster $10 million national get-out-the-vote campaign that will include 40 million pieces of political mail and 20 million phone calls to voters in key states,” writes Michael Crowley of Time. Sources in Crossroads tell Politicothat “most of the GOP corporate money is believed to be moving through [Crossroads GPS], so that it isn’t disclosed publicly.”
According to FEC reports, American Crossroads received $1 million from the Dixie Rice Agricultural Corporation and $1 million from Southwest Louisiana Land LLC (both owned by conservative billionaire Harold Simmons). Robert Rowling and his company TRT Holdings Inc., which owns Omni Hotels and Gold’s Gym, each donated around $2.5 million. American Crossroads also received $2 million from Alliance Resource Group, which is tied to the coal industry, $400,000 from the American Financial Group, Inc. (owned by billionaire and GOP-advocate Carl Linder), and $25,000 from Universal Health Care. Multimillionaires funding the group include Bob Perry of Perry Homes, who gave $7 million; Bradley Wayne Hughes, the founder of Public Storage, donated $2.55 million; and Jerry Perenchio of Univision and Trevor Rees-Jones of Chief Oil & Gas each donated $1 million.
Crossroads GPS ads accuse Democrat Joe Sestak of “voting to gut Medicare” and “higher insurance premiums” by supporting health care reform, charges that FactCheck dubs “a wild exaggeration” and “not true,” respectively. According to the AARP, the health care reform law prevented an increase in premium costs, and that health care reform does not “cut Medicare benefits or increase your out-of-pocket costs for Medicare services.” In fact, the law cracks down on waste while closing the prescription drug “doughnut hole.” The Crossroads GPS ad also relies on false claims that the health care reform law will lead to “big government health care,” when in fact the new law leaves the private insurance system in place. Crossroads employs the same bogus and deceptive attacks regarding health care reform against Barbara Boxer, Robin Carnahan, and Jack Conway. In American Crossroads’ ad against congressional candidate Dr. Ami Bera, the group claims that health care reform will “reduce [Medicare] benefits for over 1.5 million California seniors,” but the AARP points out that “none of the health care reform proposals being considered by Congress would cut Medicare benefits or increase your out-of-pocket costs for Medicare services.”
PolitiFact claims that an American Crossroads ad against Harry Reid and the stimulus plan misleadingly “cherry-picked” data and rated the ad “False.” Their ad against Michael Bennet inaccurately blames the stimulus plan for the budget deficit and higher unemployment rates, even though the deficit in fact resulted from President George W. Bush’s squandering of the surplus achieved under President Bill Clinton and the rise in job losses began during the economic collapse during Bush’s second-term. In fact, the stimulus plan is responsible for staving off an even higher jump in unemployment.
When attacking New Hampshire’s Paul Hodes, American Crossroads alleges that Hodes voted to finance “to study ants in Africa” instead of creating jobs. Because the stimulus plan provided funding to the National Science Foundation, which in turn financed peer-reviewed scientific studies, American Crossroads misleads viewers to think that Hodes voted to directly fund the project. According to PolitiFact, “It’s true that Hodes voted for the [Stimulus], but at the time he had no way of knowing that those particular projects would be funded.” Crossroads also used the same deceptive charges about science funding against Michael Bennet.
American Future Fund
AL-02; AR-01; GA-08; IA-01; IA-02; IL-11; IL-17; IN-09; MI-01; MI-07; MS-01; NJ-03; NM-01; SC-05; SD-At Large; TX-17; WA-03; WV-01
American Future Fund is spending handsomely to attack Democratic congressmen and challengers running in open Democratic seats. CQ reports that AFF is spending $4 million altogether in fourteen congressional districts, and the group intends to spend between $20-25 million in total. During the primary season, AFF ads criticized Republicans Rand Paul of Kentucky, Bill Binnie of New Hampshire, and Tom Campbell of California. The AFF is strongly backing Senate candidates Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire and Carly Fiorina of California.
Before launching an ad campaign in fourteen congressional districts across the country, AFF hit Bruce Braley of Iowa with a controversial ad regarding the Islamic Community Center near Ground Zero. Now, the group is targeting Democratic incumbents such as Bobby Bright of Alabama; John Spratt of South Carolina; Jim Marshall of Georgia; Debbie Halvorson and Phil Hare of Illinois; Dave Loebsack of Iowa; Mark Schauer of Michigan; Martin Heinrich of New Mexico; John Adler of New Jersey; Chet Edwards of Texas; Travis Childers of Mississippi; Baron Hill of Indiana, and Stephanie Herseth Sandlin of South Dakota. In addition, AFF is running ads against West Virginia’s Mike Oliverio, Arkansas’ Chad Causey, Washington’s Denny Heck, and Michigan’s Gary McDowell, all Democrats running for open Democratic seats.
The American Future Fund is based in Des Moines, Iowa, and was founded by GOP staffer Nick Ryan, a former aide to Iowa Congressman Jim Nussle who managed his unsuccessful 2006 gubernatorial bid. Ryan’s lobbyist firm has ties to Big Agriculture, especially Iowa’s large ethanol industry. The AFF’s director, Katherine Polking was previously a staffer for Republicans Chuck Grassley and Tom Latham, and now works for Ryan’s lobby firm, the Concordia Group. The AFF paid Ryan’s firm $300,000 for consulting fees.
The New York Times found that while Ryan’s Concordia Group lobbies on behalf of the ethanol industry, the AFF received its seed money from Bruce Rastetter, the “chief executive of one of the nation’s larger ethanol companies, Hawkeye Energy Holdings.” As a 501(c)4 organization, the AFF does not have to disclose the sources of its funding (in this case Rastetter’s lawyer confirmed his connections to the group). Now Ryan, who works as a “lobbyist for four Rastetter businesses,” receives money to attack Democrats with ties to agriculture policy: “Of the 14 ‘liberal’ politicians singled out in a list [the AFF] released last month, nearly every incumbent sits on a panel with a say over energy or agriculture policy. Five sit on the Agriculture Committee; four others are on related committees with say. One candidate was a staff member on a related panel.” When Bruce Braley, a Congressman in the crosshairs of AFF attacks, tried to visit the AFF, he “found only a rented mailbox.”
Iowa politician Sandra “Sandy” Greiner currently serves as the President of the AFF. Greiner was a member of the Iowa State House from 1992 to 2008, and is now pursuing a bid for the State Senate. Like Ryan, she has close connections to Big Agriculture, and she is the past head of the right-wing American Legislative Exchange Council’s state chapter. While in the legislature, Greiner received 100% ratings from the Iowa Family Policy Center, a leading Religious Right group, the anti-choice Iowa Right to Life Committee, and the pro-corporate Iowa Association of Business and Industry. Greiner’s predecessor at the AFF Nicole Schlinger was the former executive director of the Republican Party of Iowa, a staffer for Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign, and a fundraiser for gubernatorial nominee Terry Branstad.
According to Stuart Rothenberg, GOP stalwarts such as Ben Ginsberg, Ed Tobin, and Jan Van Lohuizen played key roles in AFF’s founding. Larry McCarthy, who produced the infamous “Willie Horton” ad, was the group’s media consultant. In 2008, the Minnesota Democrats filed a complaint with the FEC against the AFF, claiming that it improperly engaged in political electioneering by “expressly advocating” for Republican Senator Norm Coleman, rather than running “issue advocacy” ads. Potential Republican Presidential candidates including Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum both addressed AFF events while in Iowa.
When the AFF spent over $600,000 attacking Martha Coakley in her race against Scott Brown earlier this year, the firm McCarthy Marcus Hennings produced the ads. McCarthy Marcus Hennings also lists the American Hospital Association, the American Insurance Association, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and the National Federation of Independent Business as clients, in addition to the Republican Governors Association, the NRSC, the NRCC and numerous Republican officials such as Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell.
As a 501(c)4 non-profit, AFF does not have to disclose its donors to the public. Dan Morain, the senior editor of the Sacramento Bee, wrote that groups like the AFF “operate in the shadows. Their donors are anonymous. The power behind them is rarely apparent. It’s impossible to track the exact amounts they spend on campaigns in any timely fashion.” The editorial board of Iowa’s Quad City Times asked the AFF “to let 1st District residents know who is paying for the billboards and ads in our community” after the group began attacking Congressman Bruce Braley, “Our request: Tell Quad-Citians who you are.”
Following a slew of ads smearing the health care reform law, the AFF released an ad trashing Rep. Bruce Braley for refusing to oppose the Park51 Islamic Community Center near Ground Zero. The AFF’s “Mosque” ad compares the project to “the Japanese building at Pearl Harbor,” employs discredited attacks against Park51’s organizer, and ties Braley to the project simply for saying that Iowans shouldn’t make decisions about the zoning of New York City property. In its new ads targeting vulnerable Democratic incumbents and Democrats running for open seats, AFF knocks the candidates’ support for Nancy Pelosi, and even blames Democrats who voted against health care reform for the law because they voted for Pelosi as Speaker. Furthermore, these ads utilize debunked and misleading attacks against the Stimulus Plan, the American Clean Energy and Security Act, and health care reform’s impact on Medicare.
Americans for Job Security
CO-SEN; IN-08; NC-02; NM-02; OH-18; PA-04; PA-07; VA-09
Americans for Job Security has already spent over $7 million in the election, and is a huge booster of Republicans such as Pennsylvania’s Pat Toomey and Colorado’s Ken Buck. Now the group is attacking Democratic Congressmen, including Zack Space of Ohio, Jason Altmire of Pennsylvania, Rick Boucher of Virginia, Harry Teague of New Mexico, and Bob Etheridge of North Carolina. In addition, Americans for Job Security is attacking Democrats running for open Democratic seats, including Bryan Lentz of Pennsylvania and Trent Van Haaften of Indiana.
Utilizing hefty and anonymous corporate donations to run a misleading and deceptive ad campaign, Americans for Job Security is almost the epitome of pro-corporate astroturfing. Americans for Job Security is registered as a 501(c)6 trade association, and consequently does not have to disclose its donors to the FEC. Former Montana Governor Marc Racicot, who also served as the Chair of the Republican National Committee and President of the American Insurance Association, founded the organization. Stephen DeMaura, a former executive director of the New Hampshire Republican Party, recently replaced prominent Republican consultant Michael Dubke as President. The organization even sublets its office space from Dubke’s GOP consulting firm Crossroads Media.
Americans for Job Security is an authentic corporate creation: founded in 1997, it initially received two $1 million contributions from the American Insurance Association (previously led by founder Marc Racicot) and the American Forest and Paper Association. Proud of its support from corporate backers, the group hailed the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United as an “unequivocal victory.”
The New York Times profiled Americans for Job Security and its history of controversial and shadowy political work on behalf of business interests. While the group “avoids disclosure by reporting all its revenue as ‘membership dues’… a review of its tax returns shows membership revenue fluctuating wildly depending on election cycles.” In fact, Americans for Job Security reported $0 in “membership dues” in 2007 but $12.2 million in 2008. The Washington Post writes that even though Americans for Job Security classifies itself as a trade association, it “spends the vast majority of its budget on television and radio ads before elections,” and the ads are overwhelmingly negative attacks against Democrats.
According to a Public Citizen report, “Americans for Job Security is a sham front group that would be better called Corporations Influencing Elections.” Public Citizen also maintains that Americans for Job Security is “one of the most egregious offenders” in circumventing FEC rules on “electioneering activity.”
The group’s newest ads compare Democrats Zack Space, Jason Altmire, Bryan Lentz and Trent Van Haaften to burglars and pickpockets. Many of their ads slam the Stimulus Plan, which actually improved job growth and Real GDP and prevented total economic collapse, and dishonestly malign progressive legislation. When criticizing Rep. Space for backing the American Clean Energy and Security Act, the group baselessly claims the bill would “kill Ohio jobs.” However, a University of California, Berkeley study found that ACES “would create between 918,000 and 1.9 million new jobs, increase annual household income by $487-$1,175 per year, and boost GDP by $39 billion-$111 billion.” In the group’s ad against Bryan Lentz of Pennsylvania, who is running to replace Joe Sestak, Americans for Job Security alleges that health care reform cuts $500 billion from Medicare, a claim FactCheck.org forcefully debunked as a gross distortion.
Americans for New Leadership and Liberty.com
Americans for New Leadership claims to have spent only $300,000 so far in ads attacking Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) and supporting his far-right opponent, Sharron Angle. After its first ad, the group was mocked for misspelling Sharron Angle’s name. Although it did not air any ads in the Delaware primary, the organization’s website Liberty.com did create an infamous online video which said that Christine O’Donnell’s primary opponent Mike Castle has a male lover.
The Tea Party-backed group was founded by Tea Party activists Eric Odom and Yates Walker. Both worked on Christine O’Donnell’s successful senatorial campaign against Mike Castle in Delaware’s GOP primary, where Walker served as her spokesman and Odom was involved in online organizing. Previously, Odom and Walker worked for Doug Hoffman’s failed 2009 campaign for Congress. A Tea Party activist, Odom is involved with a plethora of Tea Party groups: he founded the website TaxDayTeaParty.com and the American Liberty Bus Tour, and runs the Liberty First PAC and the American Liberty Alliance, a for-profit organization. Erik Erikson, founder of the prominent conservative blog RedState, criticized Odom’s “tangled web” of Tea Party organizations.
Republican activist and Fox News Commentator Dick Morris helped engineer the organization’s growth. Morris asked viewers of Hannity and his email list to donate to Americans for New Leadership, and said in an email solicitation that “the campaign in Nevada to replace Harry Reid is in a desperate situation and needs your help.” Conservative activists Jen Harrington, who worked in the Bush administration, and Brent Husson, the former executive director of the Nevada Republican Party, are also managing the organization.
Spokesman Yates Walker told Politico that the group intends to capitalize on the Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling: “January’s Citizens United Supreme Court ruling, which struck down the law banning corporate spending in elections, paved the way for the new group’s formation, Walker said.” The organization can also raise and spend unlimited amounts of money as an independent committee.
Calling itself the right-wing version of MoveOn.org, Americans for New Leadership is attempting to strengthen the conservative “netroots” with its independent expenditure effort and website Liberty.com. Their website says that the organization’s mission is to “keep the American electorate informed and vigilantly guarding against the forces on the left who seek to redefine individual liberty, redistribute wealth, and remake America into a socialist, cradle-to-grave nanny state.” Moreover, the group decries the mainstream media as “infiltrated by the activist left” and says that the “fourth estate has become an accomplice to the progressive left’s assault on individual liberty.” It is focusing most of its resources on opposing Harry Reid’s reelection, and manages the website DumpReid.com.
In a Liberty.com video, an anchorwoman criticizing Delaware Congressman and then-Senate candidate Mike Castle responds an anonymous questioner asking “isn’t Mike Castle cheating on his wife with a man?” by saying, “That’s the rumor.” Americans for New Leadership has launched two ads in Nevada. Their first ad not only originally misspelled Sharron Angle’s name, and also asserted that “Sharron Angle won’t ‘phase-out’ Social Security” and called the charge a “lie.” However, Angle explicitly said in a debate that “we need to phase-out Medicare and Social Security out in favor of something privatized” and that Social Security “can’t be fixed.” In its second ad, Americans for New Leadership repeats the Medicare funding distortion and grossly misrepresents the stimulus plan and the American Clean Energy and Security Act.
Americans for Prosperity and Americans for Prosperity Foundation
AZ-08; CO-04; FL-02; FL-08; FL-24; IN-02; KS-03; MI-01; MI-07; MO-04; NC-07; ND-At Large; NH-01; NH-02; NV-03; OH-18; WA-03; WI-03; WI-07; WI-08
In August, Americans for Prosperity began running advertisements against Democratic incumbents and leading Democratic candidates for Congress. In the last three months Americans for Prosperity spent $6 million in ads; the group’s first targets include Democratic incumbents Mark Schauer of Michigan, Ike Skelton of Missouri, Earl Pomeroy of North Dakota, Joe Donnelly of Indiana, Dina Titus of Nevada, and Betsy Markey of Colorado, in addition to Michigan’s Gary McDowell, Washington’s Denny Heck and Kansas’ Stephene Moore, who are running for open Democratic seats. Americans for Prosperity’s advertisements against Democratic Congressmen have attacked Arizona’s Gabrielle Giffords; Florida’s Allen Boyd, Alan Grayson and Suzanne Kosmas; New Hampshire’s Carol Shea-Porter; North Carolina’s Mike McIntyre; Ohio’s Zack Space, and Wisconsin’s Ron Kind and Steve Kagen. The group has also attacked Democratic candidates Julie Lassa of Wisconsin and Ann McLane Kuster of New Hampshire.
According to Jane Mayer in The New Yorker, Americans for Prosperity and its sister group plan to spend $45 million on “some fifty House races and half a dozen Senate races, staging rallies, organizing door-to-door canvassing, and running ads aimed at ‘educating voters about where candidates stand.’”
Americans for Prosperity and its sister organization, Americans for Prosperity Foundation, have 31 state chapters and are active players in organizing Tea Party demonstrations and training activists. Industrialist David Koch is the Chairman of the Americans for Prosperity Foundation, and a recent article in The New Yorker detailed the millions of dollars Koch has invested in right-wing causes and the Tea Party movement. David Koch and his brother, Charles, have a combined net worth of $4 billion and control the corporate behemoth Koch Industries, which was founded by their father and is based in Wichita, Kansas. Richard Fink, Koch Industries’ chief Washington lobbyist, co-founded the group with David Koch.
The organization’s President Tim Phillips is the founder of the firm Century Strategies along with Religious Right leader Ralph Reed. Peter Stone of the National Journal found that Century Strategies not only assisted GOP campaigns, but also became a leader in corporate astroturfing, and “raked in millions of dollars by mounting grassroots lobbying drives and other campaigns—as well as doing some inside-the-Beltway advocacy—for two dozen or so Fortune 100 companies and lesser-known enterprises.” Century Strategies is also tied to disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff and its clients included Bush-Cheney ’04 and the RNC. Americans for Prosperity’s Vice President was the “director of Kansas Public Affairs for Koch Industries,” and its Policy head led two pro-corporate groups: the Free Enterprise Fund and the Internet Freedom Coalition.
Nancy Pfotenhauer is the past CEO of Americans for Prosperity, and was the director of Koch Industries’ Washington Office. Along with her role as an activist for Koch Industries and energy corporations, she led the Independent Women’s Forum, which works against both feminism and environmental protection laws, and was a senior adviser to McCain-Palin ’08.
Citizens for a Sound Economy, which supported pro-corporate political causes, split up in 2004 into two conservative organizations: Americans for Prosperity and FreedomWorks, which is led by Dick Armey. Koch said that he, his brother, and their partners “envisioned a mass movement, a state-based one, but national in scope, of hundreds of thousands of American citizens from all walks of life standing up and fighting for the economic freedoms that made our nation the most prosperous society in history.” During the debate over health care reform, Americans for Prosperity launched the anti-reform group Patients United Now. The group is a chief critic of the stimulus plan and the American Clean Energy and Security Act. Jane Mayer of The New Yorker writes that “Americans for Prosperity, in concert with the [Koch] family’s other organizations, has been instrumental in disrupting the Obama Presidency” and is a frequent presence behind Tea Party rallies, organizing sessions and leadership trainings. Americans for Prosperity’s thirty-one state branches are key components of its political muscle. Americans for Prosperity-Wisconsin is involved in a “vote caging” operation with Republican and Tea Party groups to challenge minority and young voters, and the group’s Texas chapter gave its “Blogger of the Year” Award to a blogger who called President Barack Obama “cokehead in chief” and said that he is a schizophrenic possessed by the devil.
Before Congress voted on health care reform, Americans for Prosperity gained notoriety for spending $750,000 on an ad claiming that “government-run health care” would harm cancer patients, especially women with breast cancer. PolitiFact gave the ad its “Pants on Fire” rating for distorting both new recommendations on mammograms and the health care reform bill, which has a provision to “ensure that mammograms for women aged 40 to 50 would be covered,” and FactCheck called it “very misleading.”
The organization’s new ads concentrate on the Stimulus Plan, the American Clean Energy and Security Act, and health care reform. Americans for Prosperity’s ads push the fictitious claim that health care reform creates “Government Healthcare.” PolitiFact points out that “Obama’s plan leaves in place the private health care system, but seeks to expand it to the uninsured.” In addition, the group also misleads viewers by interpreting savings from waste and overpayment in the Medicare program as cuts affecting seniors. Americans for Prosperity also employs false attacks against the American Clean Energy and Security Act, and groundlessly blames the stimulus plan for increased unemployment, even though studies show that the Stimulus stopped the prolongation of the massive job losses which began under the Bush administration.
CA-20; FL-02; GA-08; KY-06; MS-01; NC-08; NC-11; NJ-03; NY-24; PA-11
The Center For Individual Freedom (CFIF) intends to spend $10 million attacking Democratic Congressmen, including: California’s Jim Costa; Florida’s Allen Boyd; Georgia’s Jim Marshall; Kentucky’s Ben Chandler; North Carolina’s Larry Kissell and heath Shuler; New Jersey’s John Adler; New York’s Michael Arcuri, and Pennsylvania’s Paul Kanjorski.
W. Thomas Humber founded the CFIF in 1998 after leading the National Smokers Alliance, a front group for Phillip Morris, as its President and CEO. An employee of Burson-Marsteller, he coordinated the Public Relations strategies for the Tobacco Institute, which lobbied on behalf of the tobacco industry and its interests. He also worked for Philip Morris in Switzerland and Brown & Williamson Tobacco. In 1998 the Los Angeles Times reported that while the National Smokers Alliance claimed to be a grassroots organization, it collected very little in membership dues even though it had $45.9 million in funding. The funding mostly came from tobacco companies. When Phillip Morris stopped contributing to the National Smokers Alliance, Humber left to establish the Center For Individual Freedom and immediately requested support from the Lorillard Tobacco Company.
The CFIF’s current President, Jeff Mazzella, accused Nancy Pelosi of trying “to set up separate relations with a terrorist government,” and is also one of the most vigorous opponents of Net Neutrality. Mazzella is responsible for making the CFIF active in congressional races this year, as in earlier elections the CFIF was only involved in state and local campaigns, especially judicial contests.
The CFIF is a 501(c)4 organization that is not required to disclose its donors. In fact, the organization sued to dismantle disclosure rules in West Virginia and Illinois and vehemently opposes the DISCLOSE Act. The group aggressively lobbies against oversight and taxes on businesses, it even called the American Clean Energy and Security Act “a bailout of BP” since the legislation attempts to generate more revenue from American energy companies. The pro-corporate organization backed the Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling, fights Net Neutrality, promotes Climate Change denialism, endorses expanded offshore drilling, and wants to extend the costly $700 Billion Bush tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans.
The CFIF’s attack ads call the stimulus plan is a “failed” policy, despite the assertions of economists that the Stimulus prevented a further economic decline and economists Mark Zandi of Moody and Alan Blinder of Princeton credit the Stimulus with helping to stabilize a perilous economic situation and saved millions of jobs. Economist Rob Shapiro’s analysis of unemployment suggests that once President Obama’s policies began to impact the economy, the number of job losses significantly contracted. Even though the CFIF blames Democrats in Congress for the rise in the national debt, the group fails to mention that massive spending and tax cuts by the Bush administration drove the country from surplus into record deficits and added trillions to the debt. According to the Center for Budget Policy and Priorities, the costs of the stimulus plan “pale next to other policies enacted since 2001 that have swollen the deficit,” such as the Bush tax cuts, the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and the prescription drug benefit plan, whose costs “easily dwarf the stimulus and financial rescues.”
Club for Growth and Club for Growth Action
AK-SEN; CO-SEN; FL-SEN; NV-SEN; PA-SEN; WI-SEN; SC-05
Club for Growth Action recently launched a $1.5 million ad campaign to benefit right-wing Tea Party candidates for US Senate. So far, the group has spent over $1 million against Joe Sestak in Pennsylvania and nearly $600,000 attacking Michael Bennet of Colorado, and almost $200,000 opposing Russ Feingold of Wisconsin. They have also spent over $700,000 attacking Nevada Republican Sharron Angle’s opponents Sue Lowden (R) and Harry Reid (D), in addition to over $300,000 against Charlie Crist in Florida and more than $200,000 against Rep. John Spratt in South Carolina.
Established in 1999 by a group of economic conservatives who sought to overhaul the country’s regulatory system and dramatically reduce the role of government, the Club for Growth has emerged as a serious force in conservative politics. Steve Moore founded the Club for Growth along with Ed Crane, the president of the libertarian Cato Institute, conservative economist Larry Kudlow, Richard Gilder of the right-wing Manhattan Institute, and National Review magazine President Dusty Rhodes. Other conservative institutions tied to the Club for Growth include the Heritage Foundation, the National Taxpayers Union, and Americans for Fair Taxation. The Club’s past President is former Congressman and current GOP Senate hopeful Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania, and the Club is currently led by former Indiana Republican Congressman Chris Chocola.
The organization frequently engages in competitive Republican primaries by attacking the candidates it deems depart from conservative economic orthodoxy. For example, it spent $175,000 attacking Republican Senator Bob Bennett of Utah, and spent over $1.1 million combined in the seven Republican House races where it endorsed candidates.
With its ability to forward huge sums to candidates and run attack ads against their opponents, “the Washington-based advocacy group is a political force to be reckoned with in Republican circles,” writes The Los Angeles Times. It aims to spend $24 million on this year’s election. Following the Citizens United ruling, Club for Growth set up Club for Growth Action, an independent expenditure committee which accepts “unlimited individual and corporate contributions.”
The Club for Growth is a vocal proponent of privatizing Social Security, establishing private school vouchers, reducing regulations, and lowering and ultimately eliminating corporate, income, and capital gains taxes. The group calls on officials to “embrace” the idea of privatizing Social Security, even exclaiming: “Privatize Social Security? Hell Yeah!” The Club also opposes the DISCLOSE Act, which would require political organizations to publicly report their donors, and ban foreign-owned corporations from financially participating in elections.
Along with running attack ads, USA Today described Club for Growth’s practices of forwarding pooled contributions to candidates: “Since Jan. 1, 2009, for instance, the Club for Growth has tapped its members for $3.8 million that it has passed on to candidates, including nearly $850,000 for RepublicanPat Toomey, the Club’s former president, who is running for the Senate in Pennsylvania.”
Club for Growth Action’s new ads generally highlight issues such as the budget and health care reform. Blaming Senators like Russ Feingold and Michael Bennet for the country’s debt and deficit, the Club forgets that the most significant factors behind the shortfalls include the economic downturn that began under the Bush administration, the Bush tax cut scheme, and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Club for Growth supported many of these policies, such as the Bush tax cuts that mostly benefited the wealthiest Americans. In fact, Democratic President Bill Clinton’s administration left the country with a budget surplus and a path towards paying off the national debt. Regarding health care reform, Club for Growth Action repeats the myth that the policy leads to “Big Government Health Care” and “job killing taxes.”
Coalition to Protect Seniors
AR-SEN; CO-SEN; IN-SEN; MO-SEN; NV-SEN; WA-SEN; IN-09; NV-03; TX-23;
As of mid-October, the Coalition to Protect Seniors has spent over $400,000 in ads and mailers criticizing health care reform in the districts of Democratic members of Congress, including: Sen. Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas; Sen. Michael Bennet of Colorado; Sen. Patty Murray of Washington; Sen. Harry Reid of Nevada; Sen. Claire McCaskill of Missouri (who is not up for reelection in 2010); Senate candidate Rep. Brad Ellsworth of Indiana; Rep. Baron Hill of Indiana; Rep. Dina Titus of Nevada, and Rep. Ciro Rodriguez of Texas.
The Coalition to Protect Seniors neither discloses its donors nor lists any information about who founded or manages the organization on its website, and it is unclear if the Coalition even has any members. “The address on the coalition’s filings was a suite in a large office building in Wilmington that seemed to be shared by an array of other businesses involved in the health care, financial services and energy industries,” writes Mike McIntire of The New York Times, and “calls to several of them turned up none that acknowledged knowing anything about the coalition.”
The group was established in June of this year and is based in Wilmington, Delaware, and appears to be solely focused on denouncing the recently passed health care reform law. The New York Times reports that the bulk of the Coalition’s advertising funds go to the Fenwick Group, which shares an office with “a broker for seven large health insurance providers, including Aetna, Blue Cross, Humana and United Healthcare.” The Center for Media and Democracy has classified the Coalition as a “front group” for the health insurance industry.
The Coalition’s two ads can be found on its website, and the most notable ad features a talking baby criticizing health care reform. Both ads contend that the reform law cuts “$455 Billion from Medicare,” and the group’s website alleges that the law “hurts Medicare beneficiaries” and “will cut Medicare benefits.” According to the AARP, however, health care reform would actually lower Medicare costs for seniors while cutting waste in the program: “health care reform will strengthen Medicare by eliminating billions of dollars in waste while lowering prescription drug prices.” The dubious and discredited claim that cuts in Medicare waste would take “money out of seniors’ pockets” has been used by other pro-GOP groups that disapprove of the reform law.
Commission on Hope, Growth and Opportunity
CO-03 FL-02; FL-34; MD-01; MD-02; NY-25; PA-03; SC-05;
The Commission on Hope, Growth and Opportunity is spending $900,000 on ads targeting Democratic Congress members John Salazar of Colorado; Allen Boyd and Suzanne Kosmas of Florida; Frank Kratovil and Dutch Ruppersberger of Maryland; Dan Maffei of New York; Kathy Dahlkemper of Pennsylvania, and John Spratt of South Carolina. However, this initial buy appears to be only the beginning for the Commission as Politico reports that the group intends to “raise as much as $25 million” and air TV ads in more than 27 House districts and three Senate races.
Veteran GOP operative Scott Reed, who in 1996 served as campaign manager for Bob Dole’s presidential bid, founded the Commission in the summer of 2010. Reed is a lobbyist who also worked under Mississippi Governor and RGA head Haley Barbour at the Republican National Committee. He also led the American Taxpayers Alliance, a front group for Reliant Energy and Duke Power that worked to defeat politicians who favored greater regulation and oversight of the energy industry.
Like the American Taxpayers Alliance, the Commission appears to be a front group for corporations. Reed said that his group and others rely on “the big three stepping into the batter’s box,” which “are the financial services industry, the energy industry, and the health insurance industry.”
According to Reed, “Citizens United opened the door for the unparalleled participation by corporations at the financial level.” As a 501(c)4 organization, the Commission does not have to disclose either the corporate or individual sources of its funding. Apparently, the Commission did not even notify the FEC about its spending in key congressional races, which is required by law. The Commission’s website says that it plans to “communicate its public welfare message” through “print advertising, cable television and radio messaging, as well as e-mail and direct mail communications.”
The group has partnered with American Crossroads and the American Action Network in what The Wall Street Journal describes as “a $50 million advertising blitz” to attack vulnerable Democratic members of Congress and some Democratic incumbents whose races have only recently become competitive. The Journal also maintains that the three groups are likely to outspend even the National Republican Congressional Committee in supporting Republican candidates for the House.
Political Correction says that the Commission’s new ads, which concentrate on the increasing national debt, make it appear as if “President Obama and Congressional Democrats are wholly responsible for the debt.” According to PolitiFact, the national debt grew by almost $5 trillion during the Bush Presidency: “When Bush took office, the national debt was $5.73 trillion. When he left, it was $10.7 trillion.” The budget deficit and the national debt grew rapidly under Bush, even though he inherited a budget surplus and the country was on track to pay down the debt.
First Amendment Alliance
CO-SEN; DE-SEN; KY-SEN; NV-SEN; WV-SEN
The First Amendment Alliance has so far spent over $800,000 in ads criticizing Democratic Senators Michael Bennet of Colorado and Harry Reid of Nevada, along with Democratic candidates Chris Coons of Delaware and Jack Conway of Kentucky. Most recently, it decided to spend $300,000 on ads opposing Democrat Joe Manchin of West Virginia.
The First Amendment Alliance is a front group for the energy industry and was founded by Anthony Holm, who established the organization in October of 2008 as a 527 political organization. Holm is a principal at the Texas-based conservative consulting firm the Patriot Group. He represents Texas Governor Rick Perry’s campaign and also serves as a spokesman for major Republican fundraiser Bob Perry and his company, Perry Homes. Most recently, Holm was tied to a GOP scheme to place a Green Party candidate on the ballot for governor in order to take away votes from Rick Perry’s Democratic opponent. The First Amendment Alliance received “seed money” from Bob Perry, who also contributed $4.45 million to Swift Boat Veterans for Truth in 2004 and recently donated $2.5 million to the Republican Governors Association.
On its website, the organization says “we communicate instances of waste, fraud, hypocrisy, and general disregard for standards of civility in society,” and its contact information only lists a mailbox in Alexandria, Virginia. The First Amendment Alliance, like American Crossroads, is a “Super PAC” which is allowed to raise unlimited funds from individuals and corporations, and can “explicitly urge voters to oppose or support a candidate in an election.”
According to a review of the group’s recent FEC filings, it’s clear that the First Amendment Alliance is a sham group for the energy industry. Nearly every single donor, including businesses and individuals, has links to the energy industry. Of the 73 contributors, 39 are businesses and 34 are individuals, and 70 of the donors are clearly tied to the oil and gas industry. The group raised close to $1.1 million, and of that amount more than $300,000 came from businesses tied to the energy industry and over $600,000 came from individuals with energy connections.
The group’s most generous donors include oilman Russell Gordy, who contributed $150,000, and Clayton Williams of Clayton Williams Energy and Earl Rodman of Rodman Petroleum, who both donated $100,000. The Anschutz Corporation donated $50,000, and Melange Associates and Chisos LTD, which are both involved in oil and gas exploration, gave $25,000 each. And of course, Bob Perry gave the Alliance a $50,000 contribution this year.
The First Amendment Alliance’s ad against Jack Conway was so misleading that one TV station pulled it from the airways. In the ad, the First Amendment Alliance used information showing the increased numbers of meth-labs shut down by police officers as evidence that the number of meth-labs increased while Conway was Attorney General. In essence, it used statistics pointing to increased effectiveness by Kentucky law enforcement to deceptively claim that Conway was unsuccessful in fighting drugs. Conway actually presided over the largest drug-bust in state history, and the Kentucky Fraternal Order of Police cited Conway’s achievements in cracking down on drugs as one of the reasons the group endorsed him. The Glasgow Daily Times reports that “Barren County Sheriff Chris Eaton says law enforcement ‘would be lost’ in the war on drugs if it weren’t for federal help, funding assistance opposed by Republican Senate candidate Rand Paul.” Paul, Conway’s Republican opponent, also asserted that drug abuse was not “a pressing issue” in the state.
In its Delaware ad, the First Amendment Alliance accuses Democratic Senate candidate Chris Coons of “bankrupting New Castle County,” even though the county under Coons’s leadership received a triple-A bond rating, which Moody’s Investors Services said “reflects the county’s strong financial operations bound by conservative policies.” Despite such proof of sound fiscal leadership, the First Amendment Alliance falsely claims that Coons is responsible for an “economic train wreck.”
The New Prosperity Foundation
IL-SEN; IN-02; IN-03; IN-09; WI-07
Focusing on defeating Democrats in the Upper Midwest, the New Prosperity Foundation has spent $347,714 against Democratic Senate candidate Alexi Giannoulias of Illinois; $130,000 against Rep. Joe Donnelly, $130,000 against Rep. Baron Hill, and $12,500 against Tom Hayhurst of Indiana, and $75,000 against Julie Lassa of Wisconsin.
The New Prosperity Foundation is Co-Chaired by Gregory W. Baise, the head of the Illinois Manufacturers Association, and prolific GOP fundraiser and Bush Pioneer Ronald J. Gidwitz. The New Prosperity Foundation shares an office with the Economic Freedom Alliance, a pro-corporate political organization backed by Gregory Baise’s Illinois Manufacturers Association and other corporate lobbies. Ronald Gidwitz is also the Chairman of the Americans for Prosperity’s Illinois Chapter, and was Campaign Chairman for unsuccessful 2010 gubernatorial hopeful Republican Kirk Dillard.
Established in 2009, the New Prosperity Foundation is committed to defeating Democrats in Upper Midwest states: Michigan; Ohio; Indiana; Illinois; Wisconsin; Minnesota; Iowa; Missouri; North Dakota and South Dakota. Purportedly focusing on economic issues, the organization says it will use “resources to educate voters about issues and candidates having a direct effect on economic growth.” The New Prosperity Foundation can barely hide its partisanship, as the group’s Facebook page links to the House Republican Leadership’s “Pledge to America.”
As a 527 organization the New Prosperity Foundation can accept unlimited funds from individual and corporate donors, but their financing sources must be disclosed. According to their most recent FEC filing, the group received $50,000 from the Hunter Engineering Company, a car-parts company; $50,000 from Republican mega-donor Ethelmae Humphreys; $25,000 from Sam Fox (who in 2004 helped finance the smer-group Swift Boat Veterans for Truth), and $20,000 from the Illinois company FTC Services.
The group was forced to pull their latest ad criticizing Democratic Senate candidate Alexi Giannoulias of Illinois due to blatant factual inaccuracies. Although the New Prosperity Foundation claimed that it focuses solely on economic issues, the ad criticized Giannoulias for “playing basketball” while his opponent, Republican Mark Kirk, was “serving in Iraq.” However, Kirk lied on the House Floor when he said he had served in Iraq. He never actually served in Iraq, which was one of many occasions that Kirk lied about his military record.
In their ads attacking Indiana Congressmen Baron Hill and Joe Donnelly, the group blames Democrats for increasing the country’s national debt by $3 trillion. But the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities claims that “legislation enacted since 2001 added about $3.0 trillion to deficits between 2001 and 2007,” all under the Bush administration, “with nearly half of this deterioration in the budget due to the [Bush] tax cuts (about a third was due to increases in security spending, and about a sixth to increases in domestic spending).” Consequently, the ads put the onus on the country’s burgeoning national debt on Democrats in Congress, while ignoring the significant role of the Bush administration and Congressional Republicans who increased the debt by $3 trillion and squandered the budget surplus created under the Clinton administration.
US Chamber of Commerce
CA-SEN; CO-SEN; CT-SEN; FL-SEN; IL-SEN; IN-SEN; KY-SEN; MO-SEN; NH-SEN; OH-SEN; PA-SEN; WI-SEN; AL-02; AR-04; CO-04; FL-08; FL-24; GA-08; GA-12; IA-03; ID-01; IL-10; KS-03; MD-01; MS-01; NV-03; ND-At Large; NM-01; NM-02; NJ-12; OH-16; OH-17; OH-18; OK-02; UT-02; VA-02; VA-05; WI-07
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce has commenced a massive influx of spending into nearly all of the top-tier Senate races. So far the Chamber has spent over $3 million in California, $2 million in New Hampshire and Florida, and about $1 million in Colorado in order to elect Republicans to the US Senate. They are also spending hundreds of thousands of dollars opposing the Democratic candidates for Senate in Connecticut; Illinois; Kentucky; Missouri; Indiana; Ohio; Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania.
In addition to targeting Senate races, the Chamber is also airing ads which attack Democratic Congress members Betsy Markey of Colorado; Suzanne Kosmas and Alan Grayson of Florida; Leonard Boswell of Iowa; Dina Titus of Nevada; Rush Holt of New Jersey; Martin Heinrich and Harry Teague of New Mexico; Earl Pomeroy of North Dakota; John Boccierri; Tim Ryan and Zack Space of Ohio; Tom Perriello of Virginia The Chamber is also running ads criticizing Democratic candidates for Congress such as Dan Seals of Illinois, Stephene Moore of Kansas; and Julie Lassa of Wisconsin.
According to the Washington Post, 90% of the Chamber’s spending has benefited Republican candidates and the Chamber has already spent over $21 million and vows “to spend $75 million or more on November’s midterm election cycle.”
A presence in American public life and the private sector for almost 100 years, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce is the country’s largest trade association with thousands of state and local chapters. Thomas J. Donohue has led the Chamber since 1997, and under his leadership the Chamber’s lobbying and campaign efforts have tremendously increased. In 2009 alone, the Chamber spent $144 million on lobbying, more than double than the year prior. According to Donohue, “People seem to listen to you more when you’ve got a bagful of cash.”
Donohue fiercely yet unsuccessfully opposed Wall Street Reform, and under his tenure the Chamber has engaged in debates over “trade, tort reform, union organizing rights, financial regulation and health care.” The Chamber is also a fierce opponent of bills that attempt to combat climate change, promote environmental preservation, strengthen workplace protections, and ensure equal pay for equal work. Donohue claimed that BP should not have to pay for the entire cleanup of BP’s oil spill in the Gulf, and that taxpayers should also pay a price; supports the privatization of Social Security; and opposed Al Franken’s Amendment to “prevent the Pentagon from doing business with contractors who force employees into binding arbitration over rape and sexual assault charge.”
When the Supreme Court’s ruling in Citizens United opened up the floodgates for increased and anonymous corporate financing of political activity, and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce was already established as the principal agent in raising and disseminating corporate money. 501(c)6 trade associations like the Chamber “can take large contributions from companies and wealthy individuals in ways that will probably avoid public disclosure requirements.” “The chamber has developed that into something of a specialty,” Tom Hamburger writes in The Los Angeles Times, “under a system pioneered by Donohue, corporations have contributed money to the chamber, which then produced issue ads targeting individual candidates without revealing the names of the businesses underwriting the ads.” The Chamber’s grassroots organization, Friends of the US Chamber, claims to have “roughly equivalent” the amount of members of Barack Obama’s Organizing for America.
Recently, ThinkProgress found that the Chamber’s “Business Councils” fundraise abroad and collect membership dues from foreign-owned corporations. Such money goes to the 501(c)6 “trade association” entity that is responsible for airing political ads. So far, the Chamber has raised at least $885,000 from foreign corporations. However, ThinkProgress reports that the Chamber has not provided “any documentation or proof to demonstrate foreign money is not being used for electioneering purposes,” and “refuses to divulge any of the funders for their ad campaign.”
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce was one of the first groups to launch campaign ads in the 2010 election season. While the Chamber spent handsomely on a positive ad promoting Ohio Republican Senate hopeful Rob Portman, the vast majority of the Chamber’s ads have been negative attacks on Democrats. The Chamber used inaccurate data in what FactCheck called its “untrue” ad campaign against Barbara Boxer that focused on California’s water supply, and Pennsylvania television stations even pulled the group’s ads criticizing Joe Sestak because of their errors.
In the Chamber’s ads knocking Democrats Brad Ellsworth of Indiana and Paul Hodes of New Hampshire, the Chamber grossly misrepresented health care reform as a “government takeover of health care,” and falsely maintained that the new law would “ration services” in its ads against Michael Bennet of Colorado. When attacking Kentucky Democrat Jack Conway over health care reform, the Chamber said that premiums would increase, even though the bill actually helps avert a massive hike in premiums, and repeats the erroneous claim that the law cuts $500 billion from Medicare. While attacking Colorado Congresswoman Betsy Markey, the Chamber called the American Clean Energy and Security Act a “national energy tax costing families nearly $2,000 a year.” However, Reuters reports that according to experts, the “climate legislation moving through Congress would have only a modest impact on consumers, adding around $100 to household costs in 2020.” Moreover, the Congressional Budget Office says that the bill will “provide energy rebates and tax credits” for low-income families.
Corporate Defenders and Mouthpieces
The growth of pro-corporate independent expenditure committees coincided with a more intensified effort to defend corporations’ more powerful role in politics. Jeff Sessions (R-AL), the ranking Republican member of the Judiciary Committee, said that the Supreme Court’s landmark decision in Brown v. Board of Education is “akin in my view to the Citizens United case,” and that desegregating schools was similar to allowing corporations greater access to the political process. Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), who The Hill described as “a longtime and vehement opponent of campaign finance reform,” even filed an amicus brief in the case in support of Citizens United. Business interests, Tea Party groups, and pro-corporate advocacy organizations have staunchly opposed legislation intended to check corporate power in elections and bring more transparency to politics. They often argue that regulations on corporate involvement in elections are an attack on free speech itself.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is one of the leading opponents of attempts to quench corporate influence in politics. The Hill profiled the Chamber’s intense lobbying against the DISCLOSE Act which one Hill aide called “borderline thuggish,” saying that “the Chamber has threatened [multiple vulnerable members] with ads against them if they vote for the bill.” FreedomWorks, a Tea Party mainstay led by former House Republican leader and corporate lobbyist Dick Armey, is rallying Tea Party groups against legislation like the DISCLOSE Act. FreedomWorks has ties to Americans for Prosperity, as both groups used to be apart of Citizens for a Sound Economy, and received significant funding from the pro-corporate Sarah Scaife Foundation and the Dick and Betsy DeVos Foundation. In fact, the DeVos Foundation helped finance Citizens United’s successful legal challenge to restrictions on corporate electioneering.
The leading advocacy organization against all campaign finance reform efforts is the Center for Competitive Politics. The group’s main purpose is to legalize greater and more direct corporate involvement in politics, and to thwart public financing systems. The CCP filed an amicus brief in support of Citizens United and actively resists state and federal steps towards the public financing of elections, which it blasts as taxpayers’ “subsidizing political campaigns.” The Brennan Center for Justice described the group’s research as “unscientific and unsupported,” and unable “to demonstrate any problem” with public financing.
The CCP was founded by Bradley Smith, a former FEC head and a principal opponent of corporate restrictions in public affairs. The Washington Post referred to his views as “quite radical,” and Senator John McCain (R-AZ) said that “sending Brad Smith to the FEC is akin to confirming a conscientious objector to be Secretary of Defense.” The Center’s President, Sean Parnell, previously worked at The Heartland Institute, a pro-corporate ‘think tank’ that promotes Climate Change denialism and combats regulations on the tobacco, agriculture, and insurance industries, and receives financial support from the fossil fuel industry and the rightwing Olin, Koch, Scaife, and Walton Foundations.
Pro-corporate activists attempt to conflate reasonable restrictions on corporate involvement in politics with censorship. The head of Citizens United, David Bossie, wrote that since Elena Kagan argued Citizens United on behalf of the government as Solicitor General, she effectively believes that “the government has the authority to ban books and other forms of communication.” The Center for Competitive Politics said that the Citizens United ruling was about preventing “government bans on books.” Essentially, they argue that the avalanche of corporate financing in campaigns benefits the democratic process, and any restrictions are a form of draconian government suppression of speech.
Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, when reacting to the Citizens United decision, said that “no state can possibly benefit from having that much money injected into a political campaign.” Because of their massive financial and legal resources, corporations already have significant sway over public officials, and their clout has only increased as a result of Citizens United. With the ability to drown out the voices of real individuals and ordinary citizens, corporations in the post-Citizens United era have more ways to promote their agenda and silence their critics.
Unless the Supreme Court reverses the Citizens United decision, only a Constitutional Amendment is able to limit the extent of corporate participation in electoral politics. Multiple opinion polls show that the public, including most Republicans, overwhelmingly oppose the Court’s decision and believe Citizens United was wrongly decided.
People For the American Way and Public Citizen have launched the “Pledge to Protect America’s Democracy,” which asks candidates for office to support an amendment overturning Citizens United. Members of both the Senate and the House have proposed Constitutional Amendments, President Barack Obama repeatedly and forcefully condemned the decision, and the Elena Kagan nomination hearings and debate demonstrated increased alarm over the Roberts’ Court’s pro-corporate activism.
Legislation that can mitigate the impact of the Citizens United ruling includes the Shareholders Protection Act, which would require shareholder approval of political spending, and the Fair Elections Now Act, which provides public financing for federal candidates. Ultimately, a constitutional amendment is the most comprehensive way to reverse Citizens United and prevent the corporate takeover of our democracy.