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Nonprofits Buying Ads To Sway Votes On Cabinet Nominees

January 30, 2017 | dark money watch |
Conservative nonprofits are buying ads supporting Sen. Jeff Sessions' (pictures above) nomination for attorney general. (Photo by Mark Wallheiser/Getty Images) Conservative nonprofits are buying ads supporting Sen. Jeff Sessions' (pictures above) nomination for attorney general. (Photo by Mark Wallheiser/Getty Images)

Several liberal and conservative nonprofits — including dark money groups — are buying ads to sway Senate votes on President Donald Trump’s Cabinet nominees.

One conservative group, 45Committee, has launched ads to support three of the president’s picks — Betsy DeVos, Education secretary nominee; Rep. Tom Price (R-Georgia), Health and Human Services nominee; and Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Alabama), Trump’s choice for U.S. Attorney General.

According to Politico, the group, which does not have to disclose its donors, has spent $1.75 million on ads for Price and Sessions.

During the 2016 election, 45Committee spent $21 million boosting Trump’s candidacy. In November, Trump named Todd Ricketts, who helped run the group, to be deputy Commerce Secretary.

Ricketts also helped run Future45, a super PAC that backed Trump. Its contributors include Linda McMahon, nominated to head the Small Business Administration, who gave $1.2 million.

45Committee’s ad promoting Sessions describes him as a “civil rights champion” and features an image of him with U.S. Rep. John Lewis (D-GA). Civil rights groups have blasted Sessions’ record on voting rights and questioned his treatment of minorities. Lewis, who risked his life fighting for civil rights in the 1960s, testified against Sessions at his confirmation hearing earlier this month.


Another dark money group, the Judicial Crisis Network, which advocates for conservative judges, is also running pro-Sessions ads. The spots are airing in Missouri, Indiana and North Dakota — three conservative-leaning states with Democratic senators.

Meanwhile, liberal nonprofits —  including MoveOn.Org Civic Action, Americans United For Change, and the American Civil Liberties Union — have paid for videos blasting Sessions’ civil rights record. The ACLU’s video asks viewers to tell Senators to “hold Sessions accountable for his track record.”

The U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee is scheduled to vote on Sessions’ nomination on Jan. 31.

In addition to Sessions, liberal nonprofits are targeting Scott Pruitt, Trump’s choice to run the Environmental Protection Agency, and Steve Mnuchin, the Treasury secretary nominee.

The Sierra Club is running ads blasting Pruitt’s environmental record as Oklahoma’s Attorney General. In that role, he is currently suing the EPA, the agency he is hoping to run.

A trio of progressive groups — Progressive Change Campaign Committee, Demand Progress Action, and Allied Progress Action — have launched an ad campaign against Mnuchin. The ads, which feature a widow who lost her home to a bank Mnuchin ran, will air in Arizona, Nevada, Iowa and Washington DC.

Unlike advertisements aimed at candidates for federal office, ads that support or oppose Cabinet and judicial nominees are considered “issue ads” and do not have to be reported to the Federal Election Commission. Broadcasters must report those expenditures — and the executives of the groups buying the ads — to the Federal Communications Commission. But critics say that radio and TV stations often ignore those requirements.  

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