Mystery group goes after Dems in Senate races

Fact check: Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., has not been in Congress since 1979, as this ad from American Future Fund claims.

The conservative, free-market nonprofit American Future Fund announced the release of attack ads to run in Florida and Wisconsin, battlegrounds for control of the U.S. Senate.

In Florida, Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson is facing $1.9 million in independent from conservative independent spending groups, which favor Rep. Connie Mack, R-Fla., according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

In Wisconsin, Democratic Rep. Tammy Baldwin faces former Gov. Tommy Thompson, who won a hotly contested Republican primary and is vying to replace retiring Democrat Herb Kohl. Even before the primary concluded, Baldwin faced a slew of attack ads from conservative super PAC Club for Growth Action and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

American Future Fund’s “1979” attacks Nelson’s tenure, noting “Bill Nelson’s been in Washington since 1979.”

Well, not quite. Nelson was a member of the House from 1979 to 1991, when he ran for governor. He then won election as insurance commissioner and served until 2000 when he won his Senate seat.

“What’s he done in more than a third of a century?” the narrator asks. “Not a balanced budget but a $2 trillion health care law and $15 trillion more in debt.”

The anti-Baldwin ad takes a lighter approach, featuring the state flag. The flag features illustrations of a miner and a sailor who represent Wisconsin’s connection to both land and sea. The two come to life in an animated feature discussing Baldwin’s votes for “big spending bills.”

“I’m going to call Tammy Baldwin and tell her to stop spending away our children’s future,” the sailor decides.

The American Future fund is a nonprofit organization and won’t reveal its donors; however some sources of its income are known.

For example, American Justice Partnership, also a nonprofit, gave the group $2.4 million in 2010, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. The group says it is a “legal reform group” that “stands up to greedy trial lawyers.”

American Justice Partnership has teamed up with numerous conservative nonprofits including the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), the Center for Individual Freedom, the American Enterprise Institute and the Heritage Foundation, according to its website.

The group is a vehement opponent of liberal financier George Soros* and has been tied to alleged voter suppression laws.

American Justice Partnership was founded by the National Association of Manufacturers, according to the Daily Beast, and has received significant funding from Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce Issues Mobilization Inc., according to that group’s tax filing and first reported by RepublicReport.org, a website that investigates the corrupting influence of money in politics. WMC Issues Mobilization Inc. is also a nonprofit and does not release its donors.

Among some of the other funders of American Future Fund:

  • The Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA) gave the group $300,000 in 2010 according to a Center for Public Integrity report.
  • Bruce Rastetter, founder and CEO of Hawkeye Energy Holdings, provided seed money in 2008, according to The New York Times. Rastetter has given at least $253,000 to Republican political candidates and committees since 2008, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. Rastetter and his company, like the American Future Fund, are based in Iowa.
  • The Center to Protect Patients’ Rights gave $11.7 million in 2011, according to Center for Responsive Politics. This group is also a nonprofit, so it is unknown where its money comes from. An investigation by CRP concluded that the group is cloaked in “layers of anonymity.” Its director Sean Noble was described as a “Koch operative” by Politico, referring to conservative billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch.

The American Future Fund has spent more than $234,000 on campaign activity this election cycle, according to CRP. The group was founded by Nick Ryan, once campaign advisor to former Republican presidential hopeful Rick Santorum, and it is run by Sandra Greiner, a Republican Iowa state senator and farmer.

The group has been the subject of complaints made to the IRS and the Federal Election Commission for not disclosing its donors.

In other outside spending news:

  • Small-Minded” from Priorities USA Action, a super PAC supporting President Barack Obama, goes after GOP presidential hopeful Mitt Romney on his taxes. Romney proclaimed he has never paid less than 13 percent, but the ad claims that under the plan of his running mate, Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, millionaires would pay only 1 percent. The ad features Romney and Ryan inside a hand-drawn heart.
  • Women Vote!, the super PAC affiliated with EMILY’s List, an abortion rights organization, criticizes former Wisconsin Gov. Thompson for being a “Washington insider” in the ad “Riding High.”
  • The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee hits North Carolina state Sen. David Rouzer, a Republican, with a new attack ad. Rouzer is running for Congress in a competitive race against Democratic Rep. Mike McIntyre.
  • The Republican National Committee spent $3.3 million on advertisements opposing Obama.
  • Friends of the Majority, a conservative super PAC, spent $230,000 opposing Rep. David Schweikert, R-Ariz., who is running for election in the state’s 6th district. Schweikert, who has the support of the tea party, faces Ben Quayle in Arizona’s GOP primary on August 28. More than half of the super PAC’s contributions have come from out of state, including from GOP super donor Foster Friess.
  • The National Republican Congressional Committee spent $635,000 on media buys opposing Democratic Reps. John Barrow of Georgia, Mark Critz of Pennsylvania, Ben Chandler of Kentucky and Mike McIntyre of North Carolina.
  • Conservative Majority Fund spent $119,000 on voter telephone calls nationwide in opposition to Obama.

*The Center for Public Integrity has received financial support from Soros’s Open Society Foundation. See the Center’s list of donors here.

About the author

Rachael Marcus is a reporter with the Center for Public Integrity, a non-profit, non-partisan independent investigative news outlet, which contributes campaign finance coverage to Marketplace. For more of their reporting on money and politics go to publicintegrity.org.

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