Issue Ad Watch

Published — May 30, 2000 Updated — May 19, 2014 at 12:19 pm ET

The heat is on


New York Republicans might be nominating Representative Rick Lazio instead of Mayor Rudolph Giuliani for the U.S. Senate, but one thing remains the same: Outside interest groups don’t want Hillary Rodham Clinton elected.

Even before Hillary Rodham Clinton formally accepted the Democratic nomination on May 16, three interest groups and political action committees had begun inundating the public with issue advertisements and fund-raising letters requesting cash to campaign against her.

Ironically, the three groups—none of which is headquartered in New York—argue that Clinton is a carpetbagger who is using the race as a stepping stone for greater political aspirations.

Letter to a conservative friend

The American Conservative Union is a 35-year-old conservative interest group that recently sent out a 89-page paperback book detailing “what every American should know” about Hillary Clinton. The accompanying letter, addressed to a “Conservative Friend from ACU chairman David Keene, describes the first lady as “just as corrupt” as the president, and “far more liberal”—claiming that she has been at the center of the scandals at the White House. The ACU letter claims that the mainstream media have not addressed substantive issues in reporting on the first lady, but rather has been “cheerleading” for her.

Keene, based in Washington, writes that he plans to distribute more than 6 million copies of the book in New York alone and 10 million to voters nationwide if the ACU can secure financial assistance from conservative New York voters. This campaign is costing approximately one dollar per book; it projects spending between $6 million and $11 million this election cycle on the book campaign alone.

Despite mailing out the book on Clinton to every conservative voter in New York, the ACU is not endorsing a candidate. “We don’t have a dog in this fight,” Patti Fava, legislative director of the ACU, told the Center for Public Integrity.

The ACU directors denied planning or conducting any election-related activities in New York, but a six-page mailer received by the Center for Public Integrity indicates that the group very much plans to bet in this race—if not to back a candidate, at least to discuss candidates track records.

Keene’s letter indicates that contributions to the ACU promote a “Voter Alert Campaign” producing radio, television and newspaper ads profiling Clintons public record and political positions. The funds also pay for polling. Fava said the ACU’s involvement in New York is not election-oriented, but rather an “effort to educate voters about [Clinton].”

The ACU has more than 1 million members and takes credit for being a primary architect of the Reagan-era conservative revolution, defeating the Clinton health care plan and generating a grassroots network that ensured President Clintons impeachment.

Keene ends his remarks to the “conservative friend” by saying that he wouldn’t tell New Yorkers “how to vote—and wouldn’t presume to do that.” The outside of the envelope asks for help to “distribute the enclosed explosive book” to “every voter in the state.”

Think tank goes political

The Citizens for a Sound Economy is also joining the U.S. Senate campaign.

It is a consumer-advocate conservative think-tank financed by corporate donations. Microsoft, Koch Industries, Exxon Corp., General Electric and Philip Morris all contribute to the group, which has an income in excess of $15 million. C. Boyden Gray, White House counsel in the Bush administration, is chairman of the board of trustees.

CSE is canvassing its 250,000 nationwide members for contributions to fund-tailored voter guides, score cards and get-out-the-vote drives as well as to television, radio and print advertisements opposing Hillary Rodham Clinton. The Gannett News Service reports that CSE plans to spend more than $1 million this election cycle in various states, with New York chief among them.

CSE’s interest in the race might stem from a few of its principal founders, David and Charles Koch, who are based in Washington. The owners of Koch Industries, the nation’s second wealthiest privately owned business, the brothers were recently given a $35 million federal fine in connection with 300 oil spills in six states. As a part of the settlement agreement with the Environment Protection Agency, Koch Industries wasn’t required to admit fault, but it is paying the most expensive civil fine ever levied under United States environmental laws.

Although the CSE has battled candidates in previous election cycles, this time it decided to separate its political activities from its consumer advocate work. Its leaders registered a political action committee with the Federal Election Commission in March 2000. According to Michelle Mitola, treasurer of the CSE PAC, the group received no seed money from the think tank to subsidize the PAC; it is financed solely by limited contributions that are all reported to the FEC. Mitola also told the Center for Public Integrity that the bylaws of the PAC don’t allow it to contribute to candidates; the CSE PAC will spend all its money on educating its membership base and conducting independent expenditures supporting business-friendly conservative candidates.

Ruff PAC plays rough

Howard Ruff, an ultra-conservative Utah resident, hopes to raise at least $100,000 to defeat Hillary Clinton. Ruffs 20-year-old political action committee Ruff PAC, has paid for two separate ads in upstate New York. One, called “Puppies and Babies,” proclaims that newborns and puppies have “all lived in New York longer than” Clinton. In his newsletter Ruff Times, Ruff says his fear is that Clinton will use the Senate seat as a springboard for the presidency. “It is a lot easier to kill a 12-inch baby snake than a 12-foot king cobra,” Ruff writes.

Ruff pumped $3 million into campaigns in a single year during the 1980s. His political action committee, which stresses free enterprise, was fined $44,400 in 1993 for illegally funneling $23,000 to conservative congressional candidates, including Senator Jesse Helms, R-N.C.

Read more in Money and Democracy

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