Mysterious Group Spends $1 Million On Anti-Wellstone Campaign
by Patricia Lopez, Star Tribune, 23 October 2002
Americans for Job Security, a Virginia-based interest group that opposes the reelection of Democratic U.S. Sen. Paul Wellstone, has made an unprecedented $1 million ad buy that will fill the airwaves in the last two weeks before the election, according to Wellstone campaign officials.
Campaign manager Jeff Blodgett said the buy is so large that it may equal what Wellstone and Republican rival Norm Coleman and the two state parties each are expected to spend on media in the closing weeks.
Blodgett said his biggest concern is that no one knows who funds the mysterious group, which has found a legal loophole that apparently allows it to keep its donors secret.
"In a state with a reputation for clean, transparent campaigns, this is an outrage, that a group can come in and spend this kind of money and no one knows who their donors are," Blodgett said at a Tuesday morning news conference. "We demand to know. We ask Norm Coleman to join us in this."
Michael Dubke, president of Americans for Job Security, would neither confirm nor deny the amount of the ad buy "because I don't want to play their game," but said that "we're up [on TV] in Minneapolis, Duluth, Rochester, Fargo and statewide with radio and let's just say Minnesota's not an inexpensive state."
He said the group would have a "significant presence" on radio and TV over the next two weeks. Dubke said he has made similar-size buys in South Dakota and Missouri -- the two other states that are top targets in President Bush's attempt to put Republicans in control of the U.S. Senate.
Dubke is unapologetic about the group's refusal to disclose its donors, saying the decision is legal and is common among issue advocacy groups.
Coleman campaign manager Ben Whitney said Tuesday that Coleman would not be contacting Dubke's group or asking it to disclose its donors.
Wellstone, he said, had benefited for months from ads run by liberal interest groups. "He's getting money from radical groups like Council for a Livable World -- and we don't know who its donors are -- and then he demands that we ask someone else not to advertise in Minnesota because he doesn't like what they're saying," Whitney said.
He noted that Coleman, at the beginning of the race, had offered Wellstone a joint agreement to keep third-party money out of the race and that Wellstone refused. "It's brazen hypocrisy and it leaves me kind of breathless," Whitney said.
Kathleen Hall Jamieson, of the University of Pennsylvania's Annenberg School of Communications, said the group's tactic is "the reason issue advocacy is so problematic. You can disguise the nature of the group through a lovely sounding name."
Jamieson, a national expert on political ads, said the sheer magnitude of such an ad buy could change the course of the election.
"Large amounts of money from a third-party group late in a tight race can, in fact, shift votes, unless the message is off-strategy," she said.
The high-buck, high-profile race has been one of the tightest in the country, drawing celebrities and political luminaries from across the nation, along with a raft of outside interest groups.
Americans for Job Security has been a player in the race since June, when it began a round of radio ads that labeled Wellstone a "money-grubber" for his opposition to a permanent repeal of the estate tax, which it calls the "death tax."
A new TV ad criticizes Wellstone for taking special-interest money and for breaking a promise not to run for a third term.
Blodgett said Tuesday that he was less concerned about the content of the ads than the sheer magnitude of the buy, which he said might be the largest ever by an outside group in a Minnesota race.
Little is known about Americans for Job Security, which is based in Alexandria, Va., just outside Washington, D.C. It was founded in 1997 with a $1 million contribution from the American Insurance Association, which Dubke says is no longer associated with Americans for Job Security.
The Annenberg Public Policy Center Web site, which analyzes issue ads, describes the group as a "tax-exempt, conservative, business-backed, pro-Republican organization" that was an offshoot of a coalition of business leaders who came together in 1996 to advocate against issues promoted by the AFL-CIO.
Americans for Job Security has taken several unconventional tacks in this race -- it flew a banner over the State Fair this summer asking Wellstone to "stop taxing the dead." Its latest radio ad features a couple speaking in English and Norwegian.
In the ad, Lloyd tells Ruth in Norwegian that Wellstone is a money-grubber and should stop taxing the dead. "If he doesn't get it in English," Lloyd says, "maybe he'll get it in Norwegian."
Dubke said the group is trying to "cut through the clutter."
"Our whole goal since June has been to energize the debate," he said. "I think in American politics we don't have enough debate on public policy issues. If we let [candidates] do what they wanted, we'd get a bunch of ads telling us how much their mothers love them."
Copyright © 2002 Star Tribune
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