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Chamber spends big in Senate races

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Former Virginia Gov. Timothy M. Kaine (left) speaks July 21, 2012, as former U.S. Sen. George Allen listens during the Virginia Bar Association’s senatorial debate at the Homestead in Hot Springs, Va. (Associated Press)

The Chamber of Commerce Thursday spent a whopping $1.6 million on television ads opposing Bill Nelson in Florida’s Senate race and $1 million attacking Democrat Tim Kaine in the race for a Virginia Senate seat against Republican George Allen, disclosures showed Thursday.

The conservative-leaning business lobby also spent nearly $1 million opposing the far-left Wisconsin House member Tammy Baldwin and more than half a million opposing Missouri Sen. Claire McCaskill.

The Virginia ad says the “Kaine train” would “derail” Virginia’s economy with “big government policies,” and notes his support for President Obama’s healthcare reform.

The expenditure is unusual because it comes from a nonprofit group rather than a political committee, and it is by far the largest of its kind this election cycle.

Two comparable groups have made large ad buys, but spread them over a longer period of time. Both were from Democrat-leaning groups. Planned Parenthood spent $1.6 million attacking presumptive Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney. The League of Conservation Voters spent $1.2 million supporting Mr. Obama and opposing Republican House candidates in Pennsylvania, Texas and California.

Political expenditures by nonprofit groups are controversial because unlike campaigns, political action committees and even super PACs, they are not required to disclose the source of their funds, and there is no limit on how much they can spend.

The Kaine campaign said Mr. Kaine, a former governor, cut $5 billion and balanced Virginia’s budget each year during his tenure. It also takes issue with the anonymous, independent source of the funds.

“Tim Kaine twice offered George Allen opportunities to reach an agreement limiting the influence of outside groups on this Senate race and George Allen twice declined, opting instead to bolster his re-election campaign with false, negative advertising,” it said in a statement.

In Massachusetts, Elizabeth Warren and Scott Brown reached an agreement to discourage supporters from running nasty independent ads, agreeing the campaigns would contribute half of the cost of those ads to charity if they made it to the air.

As Mr. Allen and Mr. Kaine labor to collect donations from individuals in increments of $5,000 - the legal limit - or less, the massive one-time ad buy has the potential to have a significant impact of the race. Mr. Allen has just over $3 million in the bank, while Mr. Kaine has just under $3 million, plus about $3 million in prepaid ads, highlighting the significance of a one-time $1 million ad buy from an outside group.

Democratic big money groups are fighting back. In one of the highest-spending days among outside political groups to date, the Democratic super PAC Majority PAC, which is funded by unions, New York lawyers and Hollywood entertainers, spent nearly half a million dollars undoing some of the Chamber’s damage in Virginia by running ads attacking Mr. Allen.

Though few groups have the resources to undo spending of the Chamber’s scale, Democratic big money groups are fighting back. In one of the highest-spending days among outside political groups to date, the Democratic super PAC Majority PAC, which is funded by unions, New York lawyers and Hollywood entertainers, spent nearly half a million dollars undoing some of the Chamber’s damage in Virginia by running ads attacking Mr. Allen, a late Thursday disclosure revealed.

A Chamber spokesperson did not immediately return a request for comment, but yesterday, spokesperson Blair Latoff said in an email, “We don’t ever discuss how much we’re spending… Our efforts this cycle will be our largest and most aggressive in the Chamber’s 100 year history.”

David Sherfinski contributed to this report.

About the Author
Luke Rosiak

Luke Rosiak is a projects reporter on The Washington Times’ investigative team. He formerly covered lobbying and campaign finance for two watchdog groups as well as transportation for The Washington Post. Luke can be reached at lrosiak@washingtontimes.com.

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