U.S. Chamber spends big on attack ads

Tom Donohue, president and CEO of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, a bipartisan business association spending big on anti-Democrat attack ads.

In an unprecedented ad blitz, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce spent $5.9 million on a series of attack ads against seven Democratic candidates and one independent candidate in key Senate races, according to its disclosures to the Federal Election Commission Thursday.

 These included:

  • $1.7 million for “Deciding,” opposing the re-election of Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson of Florida
  • $1 million for “The Express” (aka “Wrong Track”) opposing former Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine
  • $914,000 for “Own It,” opposing the re-election of Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown of Ohio
  • $846,000 for “Failure,” opposing the Senate run of Democratic Rep. Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin
  • $600,000 for “Mirror Images,” opposing Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., and former Republican state treasurer Sarah Steelman
  • $400,000 for “Mainers Know,” opposing former Maine Gov. Angus King, an independent
  • $257,000 for “Dome” (aka “Not the Kind of Leader Montana Needs”) opposing the re-election of Democratic Sen. Jon Tester of Montana
  • $250,000 for “Stand,” opposing the Senate run of Democrat Rep. Martin Heinrich of New Mexico.

The Chamber calls itself a bipartisan business association, but their ads habitually target Democrats. The only Republican senatorial candidate it has attacked is Sarah Steelman in Missouri, because the Chamber favors her rival, Republican businessman John Brunner.

Chamber spokeswoman Blair Latoff said the Chamber’s endorsements are the result of an “exhaustive process” that takes into account issues of importance to the business community. “[The Chamber] does not make an endorsement based on party affiliation or on any single vote or policy position,” Latoff said in an email.

They have so far run two pro-Democrat ads, supporting Rep. Jim Matheson of Utah and Rep. John Barrow of Utah, Latoff said.

The Chamber announced five of these new Senate ads in a press release – those involving Florida, Montana, New Mexico, Ohio and Wisconsin. But it has not commented on its ads in Virginia, Missouri and Maine.

Until recently, the secretive Chamber only bought electioneering communications — ads that don’t flat-out say “vote for” or “vote against” a particular candidate. But the U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C. decided on March 30 that the financial sources for such ads must be disclosed. As a result, the Chamber shifted to funding express advocacy ads in which the funders can be anonymous.

The group released its first wave of express advocacy ads on July 16 at the cost of $1.1 million, the Daily Disclosure reported. So far, the Chamber of Commerce has spent $10.7 million on its campaign activities, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

The ad attacking King in Maine has attracted attention because of his popularity in the state, The Washington Post reported. The other locales are considered “swing states” that could decide which party controls the Senate next year.

The chamber’s expenditure in the Maine Senate race was the first by an independent group to exceed $100,000 for that race, to FEC records.

In Virginia, the anti-Kaine ad says he proposed “billions in new taxes” and “higher energy costs for families.” It did not mention that he eliminated Virginia’s estate tax and increased the earning threshold to help remove low-income families from the state tax roll, the Associated Press reported.

The ad also claimed Kaine supports “higher energy costs for families,” in a reference to his support for legislation reducing greenhouse gases. But it did not mention his support for oil and gas exploration off Virginia’s coast, over President Obama’s opposition.

 The Missouri ad links Democrat McCaskill to Steelman, one of her Republican rivals, saying they both support “union bosses” and “trial lawyers.” But Steelman, who is up against Brunner in a primary on Aug. 7, has said she strongly favors “right to work” laws, which unions oppose.

 In other outside spending news:

Priorities USA Action, a pro-Barack Obama super PAC, has removed an ad called “Romney’s Gold,” from the web and will not air it during the Olympic Games as planned, CNN reported. It did so at the request of the U.S. Olympic Committee, which was supported by the International Olympic Committee. Olympic footage is not supposed to be used in any political ads. The pro-Obama group cited “copyright concerns” for taking it down. The ad, featured in Wednesday’s Daily Disclosure, cost more than $1 million in production and airtime costs, according to a filing on Thursday with the FEC.

  • Majority PAC, a super PAC supporting Senate Democratic candidates, reported Thursday spending nearly $749,000 on ads opposing four Republican Senatorial candidates: former Sen. George Allen of Virginia, hedge fund manager Eric Hovde of Wisconsin, former Gov. Tommy Thompson of Wisconsin, and Rep. Rick Berg of North Dakota.
  • The Texas Conservatives Fund, super PAC supporting Republican Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, reported spending $500,000 Thursday on advertising July 25-26 opposing tea party candidate Ted Cruz in the race for the GOP nominee for U.S. Senate in Texas. In a separate filing Thursday, the super PAC reported spending an additional $125,000 on advertising opposing Cruz.
  • The League of Conservation Voters rolled out an ad opposing Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev., focusing on his votes for tax breaks for oil companies. The ad, which cost $150,000 and is airing in the Reno market, shows a man washing oil off his hands.
  • The Now or Never PAC, a super PAC supporting GOP Senate candidate Sarah Steelman of Missouri, reported spending $218,000 on Friday on ads opposing John Brunner, her challenger in the Aug. 7 primary. The super PAC’s largest contributor is Steelman’s mother-in-law, Maxine Steelman, according to its July filing with the FEC.
  • Citizens for a Working America, a pro-Mitt Romney super PAC, made a $165,000 TV ad buy opposing Republican Scottie Mayfield, the president of Mayfield Dairy Farms, a candidate from Tennessee for the House of Representatives.
  • New Directions for America, a super PAC supporting Democratic candidates for Congress, reported spending $132,000 on a media buy in support of public relations executive Dan Roberti, a candidate in Connecticut’s upcoming Democratic U.S. Congressional primary.
  • A new super PAC, The Heartland Project of Chicago, registered with the FEC Wednesday.
  • The University of Hawaii Professional Association released an ad on July 16 supporting former Rep. Ed Case, D-Hawaii, over former Republican Hawaii Gov. Linda Lingle. They are vying for the seat vacated by Democratic Sen. Daniel Akaka.

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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