An Outside political interest group founded with support of the controversial Koch bothers is back on the attack in Alaska, targeting Sen. Mark Begich after his campaign blasted the group for "stalking off, tails between their legs," after the group yanked more than $100,000 in television ad spots following the shutdown by Koch Industries of the Flint Hills refinery.
The implication by the Begich campaign -- strongly denied by Americans for Prosperity -- is that the conservative group was left shamefaced by the Koch connection and pulled the ads in order to keep a low profile until the dust settled.
Levi Russell, a spokesman with Virginia-based Americans for Prosperity, compared the claim from the Begich camp to "conspiracy theories about black helicopters." In fact, AFP was just waiting for the right moment to run the ads and that moment is now, said Russell.
On Monday, the Virginia-based organization launched a three-week, statewide media blitz that will cost just over $400,000, featuring a television commercial attacking Begich over the concept of a carbon tax. "We're roaring forward like an Iron Dog," said Russell, riffing on Begich's canine analogy during a season of sled dog races and snowmachine contests.
Why is this week the best time to launch the ads, instead of Feb. 10, when AFP had originally reserved television time in Alaska? "It was simply a discussion on our end of the right date to launch it," said Russell. He made no mention of what AFP president Tim Phillips described recently as a discussion over ad rates, as reported in National Journal.
"I can't tell you all the secret stuff," said Russell, adding that the group is busy holding members of Congress accountable across the country and running the Alaska ads came down to a scheduling decision.
At any rate, the ads feature spooky music and creepy slow-motion shots of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. It claims Begich is "on record supporting a carbon tax."
Is that claim true? The fact-checking gurus at Politifact, owned by the Tampa Bay Times, pulled out their Truth-O-Meter to check. On Tuesday, they said it's "Mostly False."
But Politifact also said Begich's record suggests he would be in the "maybe" column if the Senate ever voted on a straightforward carbon tax.
That "if" is a big one. Congress hasn't come close to passing a carbon tax -- a controversial measure that "would impose a tax or fee on oil, gas and coal usage," -- and one that hasn't gained any political traction, Politifact said.
Begich has repeatedly stated that he opposes a carbon tax, something his campaign spokesman, Max Croes, reiterated on Wednesday.
"The latest Koch brothers political attack lasted a single day on TV before an independent fact check organization recognized Mark Begich opposes a carbon tax and declared the ad false," Croes said in an email.
He added: "The Koch brothers and their dark money allies will stop at nothing in their repeated attempts to mislead Alaskans." They're trying to "divert attention from Alaskans' widespread opposition to them closing the Flint Hills refinery, laying off 80 Alaskans and dragging their feet on cleaning up contaminated drinking water."
As for the new ad, Politifact notes that Congress held a pair of votes last year -- both failed -- on amendments to Senate budget resolutions related to the concept of a carbon tax.
Neither was actually a vote for a carbon tax.
One resolution would have made a carbon tax more "politically palatable" by returning revenue from a carbon tax to the public, according to Politifact. Begich voted for it.
"Regardless of how 'palatable' the thing is ... the Kochs' claim he has ever supported a carbon tax is flat wrong," said Croes.
A second resolution would have raised the number of votes the Senate needs to pass a carbon tax framework with the budget resolution, Politifact said. Begich voted against it.
In both cases, Begich was not directly expressing his support for a carbon tax, Politifact said.
But Russell, with AFP, said those votes indicate Begich's "intent" that he would support a carbon tax. Russell said Begich has stated that he opposes a carbon tax "because it's politically unpopular in Alaska."
"But actions speak louder than words," Russell said.
Politifact also breaks down a third argument presented by Americans for Prosperity: That in 2010 Begich signed a letter to Sen. Harry Reid, joining 11 other senators in calling for a cleaner energy policy. The letter suggested reforms involving energy legislation that would help the U.S. compete against China and other countries that are moving aggressively on clean energy industries. It could include "tax incentives, grants, loans and other assistance" to help American manufacturers create jobs and cut energy use.
But it was this part of the letter that Americans for Prosperity zeroed in on: The "scale of the challenge dictates the need for a comprehensive solution that includes making polluters pay through a price on greenhouse gas emissions."
Americans for Prosperity says that's the definition of a carbon tax. Not necessarily, said Politifact. That's just one option. Another might be a cap-and-trade program.
Begich's campaign spokesman told Politifact that the letter Begich signed "was meant to further a general conversation about climate change."
Both the Begich campaign and AFP agree on one thing: The Politifact article is wrong when it said Begich would "maybe" vote for a carbon tax.
Begich is solidly against it, said Croes.
Russell said Begich is clearly for it. "Politifact is giving him a pass on that. His support didn't include those two exact words (carbon tax), but his intent is pretty clear," Russell said.
Contact Alex DeMarban at alex(at)alaskadispatch.com.