By Johnny Kampis | Missouri Watchdog
ST. LOUIS – The attack dogs are loose in Missouri, the morning and evening newscasts saturated with political ads touting and bashing U.S. Senate candidates.
Here’s a bit of irony: Most of the money to produce the ads comes from outside the state.
With the rise of the so-called super PAC, candidates, for the most part, aren’t buying that air time. Instead, the super PACs are using millions in outside money to influence Show Me State voters during the last two weeks before the primary election.
Adam Smith, spokesman for Public Campaign, which wants to reduce special interest money in elections, said these ads often “play fast and loose with the facts.”
“Candidates can say, ‘I didn’t have anything to do with this,’” he told Missouri Watchdog. “’That’s an outside group.’”
In the latest round of ads that began appearing in St. Louis and Kansas City late this week, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which backs St. Louis businessman and GOP candidate John Brunner in the Senate race, compares Republican Sarah Steelman to incumbent Democrat Claire McCaskill.
Steelman’s campaign issued a statement denying the assertions.
“Sarah Steelman is 100 percent pro-business — always has been and always will be,” her campaign said. “Unfortunately, Washington,
D.C. groups are threatened by Sarah’s call for changing the way Washington, D.C. works.”
That ad from the chamber, a conservative-leaning group that has spent more than $10 million this election, is only the latest in a line of TV spots for or against Brunner, Steelman, McCaskill and Republican candidate Todd Akin.
Majority PAC, a pro-Democrat group, has spent more than $800,000 on behalf of McCaskill targeting Brunner’s record as a businessman, and more than $5.5 million overall.
Brunner is also under fire from the Now or Never PAC, a committee created to support Steelman’s campaign, which accused him of making a fortune and storing it in an offshore bank account while laying off 135 workers.
Now or Never PAC has pledged up to $450,000 to support Steelman in the final weeks of the primary race.
The Kansas City-based group is funded largely by Stanley Herzog, who gave the committee $250,000.
Herzog and his family, which owns Herzog Contracting, had previously given about $15,000 to Steelman’s campaign.
A super PAC created largely to help a particular candidate highlights the jarring difference between these groups and standard political action committees.
Now or Never is spending on behalf of Steelman rather than giving it to her campaign committee, so there’s no cap on spending. A standard PAC can give only $10,000 to each candidate this election cycle.
A 2010 U.S. Supreme Court decision led to the rise of super PACs, which can raise and spend unlimited money from corporations and unions.
Fred Wertheimer, president of Democracy 21, which supports campaign finance reform, said such PACs are designed as a workaround to contribution limits.
“It will lead us back to a system of pure legalized bribery, because you will be back, pre-Watergate, to unlimited contributions that are going for all practical purposes directly to candidates,” he said.
Brunner campaign manager Jon Seaton said Now or Never’s ad “is not just false but potentially illegal and slanderous.”
“Republican primary voters will reject these desperate smears and, meanwhile, our campaign attorneys are reviewing the advertising to consider the legal recourse with respect to the Now or Never PAC, and any stations who choose to air the ads,” Seaton said.
McCaskill, who reportedly has been the target of $8 million in attack ads this race, touted the DISCLOSE Act pushed by Democratic members of Congress earlier this month. That act would have required full disclosure of super PAC contributions, but the measure failed in the Senate along partisan lines.