Americans for Prosperity's big-bucks attack ads

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

IN A LETTER that we publish below, Phil Kerpen, vice president for policy at Americans for Prosperity, accuses us of making a "serious unsubstantiated allegation against" his organization: to wit, that it engages in election activities designed to support favored congressional candidates. In our earlier editorial, urging passage of a measure that would require groups such as Americans for Prosperity to reveal their donors, we did not take time to substantiate this allegation because it seemed self-evident.

But we're happy to take a closer look at his organization's activities, which Mr. Kerpen describes as "citizen-education efforts . . . designed to advance our mission of promoting limited government fiscal and economic policies, lower taxes, less spending and less onerous regulation." You be the judge of whether Americans for Prosperity is seeking to influence the election -- and in favor of which political party.

No one could accuse the group of being coy about its interest in the November results -- starting with its "November Is Coming" bus tour and a petition drive that instructs lawmakers to "oppose big government programs or any other freedom-killing policies or we will remember in November."

If that's too subtle, consider ads the group is running in about 40 congressional districts, such as this one targeting Rep. Betsy Markey (D-Colo.) : "Betsy voted for cap and trade, the new energy taxes that would cost Colorado thousands of jobs. And Markey betrayed us by voting for a government health care plan that cuts $500 billion from Medicare," the ad warns. "Tell Betsy Markey: 'It's time to start working for Colorado again.' " Or this one, attacking Arizona Democrat Gabrielle Giffords: "Tell Gabrielle Giffords: Fight for Arizona, not Nancy Pelosi."

Think it's a coincidence that the "issue advertising" is running, and naming names, in districts of vulnerable Democratic incumbents? Consider this attack on Washington Democrat Denny Heck -- who isn't even in office -- for "putting Nancy Pelosi's agenda ahead of our needs" and being "a 30-year political insider." The $180,000 ad campaign started running the day after Mr. Heck won the Democratic primary. In a district with an open House seat in Michigan, the group is estimated to have spent almost $350,000 attacking Democratic nominee Gary McDowell.

The charitable and nonprofit advocacy arms of Americans for Prosperity combined have raised about $30 million and are hoping for $45 million this election cycle. "Our objectives are not about winning elections -- they're about winning public policy," Mr. Kerpen said in an interview. As we said, you be the judge. At the very least, it seems to us that voters ought to know who is paying for this citizen education.

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