More House Democrats targeted by third-party groups

Tribune Washington Bureau

Third-party groups are continuing to target vulnerable Democrats in the House, attempting to weaken as many possible between now and election day.

An earlier online version of this article incorrectly gave Rep. Ed Perlmutter’s first name as Earl.

Last week, American Action Network, an advocacy nonprofit group run by Norm Coleman, the former senator from Minnesota, pledged to spend least $15 million on TV and Internet ads in House races across the nation.

Records filed with the Federal Election Commission over the last several days show that the group, which shares office space in Washington with the Karl Rove-backed American Crossroads, is making good on its promise. The group is spending more than $700,000 on ads attacking Rep. Dina Titus of Nevada for her support of the healthcare overhaul, claiming that the law allows convicted rapists to obtain erectile dysfunction drugs free of charge.

“ Viagra for rapists? With my tax dollars?” says one of the actors in the spot. (The ad refers to an amendment offered in the Senate by Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) that was never voted on in the House.)


The group has spent $435,000 attacking Rep. Christopher S. Murphy (D-Conn.) for his support of the healthcare bill, in an add that also mentions Viagra for sex offenders.

“No shadowy Internet group funded by billionaires and outsources are going to take this election,” Murphy said at a press conference late last week called in response to the ad.

The group has spent $725,000 to unseat Rep. Ed Perlmutter (D-Colo.) and $850,000 to bring down Rep. Gerald E. Connolly of Virginia; and is dumping $231,000 into the race between Rep. Stephanie Herseth Sandlin and Kristi Noem in South Dakota, a state where a little campaign cash goes a long way.

The ads running against those three lawmakers revolve around on spending, taxes, and Medicare cuts.

In the ad against Perlmutter, an announcer says, “Remember this?” followed by a sound bite of Nancy Pelosi speaking about the Democrats’ healthcare bill.

“We have to pass the bill so you can find out what is in it,” Pelosi says. “Now we know what Pelosi and Perlmutter were hiding,” the announcer says, then rattles off a list of common allegations waged by groups on the right, including that the bill “spent our money on health insurance for illegal immigrants.”


Perlmutter and Connolly are among a group of Democrats who were thought to be relatively safe, but are now being targeted as part of a coordinated effort to “expand the playing field” nationally.

Experts say as many as 100 seats nationally now feature competitive races. The GOP needs 39 seats to take control of the House.

Coleman’s group, among others, has taken advantage of a provision in the U.S. tax code that allows nonprofits to engage in election-related activities as long as that isn’t the group’s primary function.

And unlike political action committees, there is no requirement to disclose donors.

Third-party groups such as America’s Families First are backing Democratic candidates, but without the same level of resources.

All in all, more than $200 million is expected to be spent by outside groups, including labor unions, nonprofits and political parties, during this cycle’s congressional election, an 80% increase from 2006.