UPDATED 3:32 p.m.
U.S. Senate candidate Bob Kerrey is calling on his Republican opponent to join him in opposing spending by super PACs in their hotly contested race.
Kerrey sent Republican Deb Fischer a letter today asking her to oppose spending by super PACs — independent political committees that can raise unlimited money to oppose or support candidates. A 2010 U.S. Supreme Court decision upholding corporations’ right to free speech opened the floodgates to unlimited super PAC spending in campaigns nationwide.
Nebraska’s Senate race is one of a handful of pivotal races that have attracted conservative super PAC attention as Republicans try to wrest control of the U.S. Senate from Democrats. American Crossroads and Americans for Prosperity have spent about $2 million on ads criticizing Kerrey as a liberal New York carpetbagger. American Crossroads was founded by GOP strategist Karl Rove, and Americans for Prosperity is funded by the conservative billionaire Koch brothers.
The Kerrey campaign took note of a recent TV interview in which Fischer was critical of super PAC spending, saying, “It makes it difficult to run the kind of campaign I want to run when you have these outside groups come in.”
She indicated super PAC money could be better spent elsewhere, saying, “I’d like to see it spent on something that’s going to help the future of our state, that’s going to help the future of our country, on education, on public safety, on infrastructure, on helping to grow businesses.”
The Kerrey campaign pounced, sending out a press release today saying Kerrey completely agrees with Fischer and asking her to “vigorously oppose any and all such spending from now until November 6.” The two contenders in the Massachusetts Senate race agreed to try to limit super PAC ads and so far it appears to be working.
The Fischer campaign is “taking a look at the letter,” spokesman Daniel Keylin said today, noting that Fischer was traveling to Valentine and he hadn’t had a chance to consult with her. However, he noted that last week the Democratic Party began airing TV ads critical of Fischer for participating in the federal grazing rights program, which allows her ranching family to graze cattle on U.S. Forest Service land at a below-market rates. The ads call that a subsidy, contrary to her positions as a fiscal conservative.
Keylin said the Democrats plan to spend at least $400,000 on the ads and hasn’t disclosed where the money for the ads came from and Kerrey hasn’t denounced the ads attacking Fischer’s character and the ag community. He called that hypocritical of Kerrey.
“His own party is attacking her personally,” Keylin said. “And Bob has been silent.”
Vince Powers, chairman-elect of the state Democratic Party, told Nebraska Watchdog the money for the ads is coming from individual donors and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee – not super PACs.
“It’ll all be disclosed,” Powers said.
Kerrey’s move today seems to contradict his comments in a recent interview with Slate, Keylin said. Kerrey seemed to be urging Democrats to stop complaining about super PACs and get in the game.
In the article, Kerrey is quoted as saying, “Progressives don’t understand power,” he said. “They tend to talk more about ‘How do we make life fair?’ And as a consequence of being concerned about fairness, they’re not in this game. They haven’t changed their behavior since Citizens United. On that playing field, they haven’t shown up — they don’t think it’s fair.”
“They don’t understand power and the importance of what power does,” he went on. “And Republicans do. They get it. They’ve been vigorous in trying to acquire it. It may be that progressives will wake up after this campaign, but there’s no evidence of it happening during this campaign, other than at the presidential level.
Keylin said this is another instance of Kerrey changing his position depending on the political mood and shows how “desperate” he is, “pulling out a new political stunt every day.”
Kerrey’s campaign manager, Paul Johnson, responded by saying Fischer said she opposes super PAC money, but is now latching onto any excuse she can find to avoid doing something about it.
“Senator Kerrey has made a good-faith proposal to Fischer and he has long supported campaign finance reform. But both sides need to come together and agree to make it happen,” Johnson said in an email statement. “How pathetic that Fischer would attempt to use Kerrey’s comments, reflecting the current sad reality, as an excuse not to act. Nebraskans deserve better.”
Reported by Deena Winter, firstname.lastname@example.org.
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