If you live in a swing state with a competitive Senate race, there’s a new name you might have seen on your TV screen: American Commitment.
The conservative 501(c)(4) nonprofit group is on the air in five states attacking Democratic candidates.
American Commitment was founded by Phil Kerpen, who previously spent five years working at Americans for Prosperity. Before that, he worked for the Club for Growth, a Club offshoot called the Free Enterprise Fund and the libertarian Cato Institute.
AFP was co-founded by oil industry billionaire David Koch, but Kerpen would not say whether Koch and his brother Charles were helping fund his new group. “We take very seriously the privacy of protecting all of our contributors,” he told the Fix. He did not attend the Koch brothers’ recent fundraising summit in San Diego, although he has attended such confabs in the past.
“We’re going to spend as much as we can raise,” Kerpen said. The new group has raised $7 million so far and plans to focus on state-level races rather than on the presidential race, where numerous outside groups are already hammering President Obama.
There’s $1.2 million behind two ads attacking Sen. Sherrod Brown in Ohio, $1.1 million behind an ad attacking Sen. Bill Nelson in Florida, a little under $500,000 hitting Rep. Tammy Baldwin in Wisconsin, $115,000 against Attorney General Heidi Heitkamp in North Dakota, $114,000 against Rep. Martin Heinrich in New Mexico and $110,000 against Rep. Shelley Berkley in Nevada and on health care.
While the ads vary by state, the messages are largely the same. All focus on a few votes — the health-care law, the stimulus, and the Environmental Protection Agency’s Mercury and Air Toxics Standards, which the groups claims will raise electricity prices.
Ads in both Ohio and Florida call Brown and Nelson “the deciding vote” on the health-care law, echoing attacks from the National Republican Senatorial Committee. The NRSC argues that any one senator could have stopped the law, therefore every senator’s vote is decisive.
The pollution standards vote is not nearly as well-known or controversial among voters as the health-care law, but it’s one the group is particularly interested in. Last month, American Commitment ran $1 million in ads urging senators in both parties to vote for a proposal from Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.) to overturn the new regulations. Those spots targeted Sens. Lamar Alexandar (R-Tenn.), Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.), Susan Collins (R-Maine), and Joe Manchin (D-W.V.).
Groups like American Committment must focus on issues to retain their non-profit status. But Kerpen claims his is more issue-based than most.
“We saw a market need for a group that uses campaign-style tactics and has rapid response capabilities but is also substantive and makes policy arguments,” Kerpen said. “We’ve got to find a way to hold politicians accountable for the bad things that bureaucrats do when politicians fail to stop them.”
Democrats don’t see much distinction.
“American Commitment is yet another secretly funded special interest group backing [Republican candidate] Josh Mandel because they know he will do their bidding in DC instead of fighting for Ohio’s middle class,” said Brown spokesman Justin Barasky.