The U.S. Senate voted today to confirm Chuck Hagel as secretary of defense by 58 votes to 41. Although Hagel is a Republican, all of the votes against his confirmation came from GOP senators, including Iowa’s Chuck Grassley. The entire Senate Democratic caucus, including Tom Harkin, voted to confirm Hagel, joined by four Republicans.
Earlier today, a cloture motion on Hagel’s nomination easily passed by 71 votes to 27 (roll call). Just 60 votes were needed to pass the motion. Grassley was one of the 27 Republicans who tried to filibuster Hagel’s nomination. Their effort failed because 18 Senate Republicans voted for cloture; most of them later voted against confirmation.
The 501(c)4 group American Future Fund, led by Nick Ryan of Iowa, was one of the big spenders in the effort to defeat Hagel’s nomination. After the jump I’ve posted excerpts from a good piece explaining why the campaign against Hagel was a “win-win” for “dark money groups,” even though they failed to prevent his confirmation. I’ll update this post as needed if I see comments from Grassley and Harkin.
Melanie Sloan of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington wrote this piece, which originally appeared two weeks ago in the Journal-Star.
One of the groups taking the lead in the fight against Sen. Hagel is the American Future Fund (AFF), an Iowa-based group that spent nearly $26 million benefitting Republican candidates during the 2012 election cycle.
“Postelection we have new battle lines being drawn with the president; he kicks it off with these nominations and it made sense for us,” Nick Ryan, the founder of AFF, told The New York Times regarding the group’s decision to fight the Hagel nomination. In an effort to discredit him, AFF inaccurately has suggested Sen. Hagel violated Senate ethics rules and that he is on the board of a firm with investments in Iran.
Why does AFF, with the stated mission of promoting conservative and free market principles, have a dog in this fight? Significantly, as a 501(c)(4) social welfare organization that does not disclose its donors, AFF’s primary purpose can’t be influencing elections. But AFF, formed in the wake of the Supreme Court’s disastrous Citizens United decision, has done little more than spend millions running negative ads against Democrats.
To maintain its favorable tax status, AFF now needs to burn money on programs to offset money spent electioneering. Ads opposing Sen. Hagel’s confirmation help because they don’t count as electoral activity. This is a win-win for AFF: The campaign against Sen. Hagel shows it is doing more than just election advocacy while still advancing a political agenda.
Minor correction: Nick Ryan founded the American Future Fund in 2007, well before the Supreme Court’s 2010 decision in Citizens United. The 501(c)4 played a much larger role in federal elections beginning in 2010.
UPDATE: Grassley’s office released this statement.
“My opposition is based on doubts about Senator Hagel’s views on America’s relationship with Israel, his position against U.S. sanctions against Iran, and his underestimation of the security threat posed by the dangerous regime in Iran. In addition, Senator Hagel wasn’t transparent and forthcoming, as he said he would be, in that he didn’t allow access to speeches and other records of his that might provide a clearer picture of his positions on these major national security issues.”
The American Future Fund was still tweeting anti-Hagel messages even after yesterday’s Senate votes:
#ChuckHagel’s radical views on Iran and #Israel, along with his poor leadership skills make him the wrong man for #SecDef! RT!