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Politics

Begich attack ads a sign of things to come in heated Senate race

  • Author: Dermot Cole
    | Opinion
  • Updated: September 28, 2016
  • Published December 21, 2013

FAIRBANKS -- The Judicial Crisis Network recently became the latest Outside group to enter the U.S. Senate campaign in Alaska, starting a two-week holiday TV blitz against Sen. Mark Begich for voting to approve all of President Barack Obama's court nominees.

Under IRS rules, the Washington, D.C., group is not required to say who is bankrolling the attack, which it describes as a "six-figure TV ad buy." In Fairbanks, the group plans to spend about $13,000 over the next two weeks, according to an advertising disclosure on file at KATN, Channel 2.

The ad, which is to run dozens of times, uses the same music, the same graphics, the same narrator and most of the same words and pictures as recent ads attacking Democratic senators in Louisiana and Arkansas for approving Obama nominees.

"Tell Mark Pryor to go to work for Arkansas, not Obama," the ad against Sen. Mark Pryor said in November.

"Tell Mary Landrieu to go to work for Louisiana, not Obama," the ad against Sen. Mary Landrieu says.

"Tell Mark Begich he works for Alaska, not Obama," the anti-Begich ad says.

Though this is just an early skirmish, look for many others to follow because the balance of power in the U.S. Senate will hinge on the Senate vote in Alaska and about a half-dozen other states in 2014.

In November, a group backed by the Koch Brothers ran an anti-Begich ad in which an actress from Maryland asked about Begich, "How can I ever trust him again?" because the senator backed Obamacare.

Challenging Begich are three Republicans competing for the GOP nomination: Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell, former Natural Resources Commissioner Dan Sullivan and Fairbanks lawyer Joe Miller. While the primary stands to be one of the most competitive in Alaska's history, the three are likely to direct most of their public statements against Begich.

While the message of the latest ad is clear, the same cannot be said about its financial backers. The organization originated during the Bush administration. Back then it was called the Judicial Confirmation Network. It targeted Democratic senators who tried to block votes on nominees put forward by President George W. Bush.

"The framers did not want senators, who do not represent the whole country as the president does, bargaining over who would be federal judges," the attorney for the confirmation network wrote to the New York Times in 2005.

After the election of President Obama, the group changed its name to the Judicial Crisis Network and switched tactics, arguing against the approval of judicial nominees.

The Judicial Crisis Network is registered as a 501(c)(4) organization with the IRS, meaning that it is a tax-exempt "social welfare" group that does not have to disclose its donors. According to some lawyers, 501(c)(4) groups are free to spend up to 49 percent of their money on politics. Both conservative and liberal groups have used this method to avoid disclosing political donors whose interest in "social welfare" is getting the right people into or out of office.

The Wellspring Committee Inc., a group that says its mission is "to advance limited government and free markets," donated $1.5 million to the Judicial Crisis Network in 2012, according to an IRS form released last month. Wellspring, another 501(c)(4), is not required to disclose its donors, but it is required to disclose contributions to other groups.

Dermot Cole can be reached at dermot@alaskadispatch.com. Follow him on Twitter at @DermotMCole.

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