When the American Future Fund announced plans to wage a "six-figure" campaign against Representative Bruce Braley (D, IA-01), I figured low blows were on the way. After all, this 501(c)4 organization got off the ground with the help of some of the country's most notorious Republican media consultants. In 2008, the group ran misleading ads against many Democrats.
The first salvo against Braley was just the sort of cynical propaganda one would expect from the American Future Fund. More disturbing, this group isn't some fringe operation. It has close financial and operational links to Republican gubernatorial candidate Terry Branstad and state Senate candidate Sandy Greiner, one of the Iowa GOP's top legislative hopefuls.
This commercial hit the airwaves in Davenport and Cedar Rapids last week:
Transcript by me:
For centuries, Muslims built mosques where they won military victories. Now, they want to build a mosque at Ground Zero, where Islamic terrorists killed 3,000 Americans. It's like the Japanese building at Pearl Harbor. The Muslim cleric building the mosque believes America was partly responsible for 9/11 and is raising millions overseas from secret donors. But incredibly, Bruce Braley supports building a mosque at Ground Zero. Tell Braley what you think.
I didn't realize the American Future Fund had a problem with "secret donors," since the 510(c)4 group doesn't disclose its own contributors. (However, you can look up the donors to the American Future Fund's political action committee here.)
Anyway, the hit job against Braley is deceptive on several levels, many covered by Jason Hancock. The Cordoba House project is not a "mosque," it's a community center including a prayer room. It's not at Ground Zero, it's in a building a couple of blocks away, which used to be a Burlington Coat Factory store.
This commercial's central claim is that "incredibly," Braley "supports" the mosque. The source given is "Iowa Republican, 8/23/10." Indeed, on August 23 The Iowa Republican blog's lead story by publisher Craig Robinson was headlined, "Braley Supports Ground Zero Mosque, Says it's Just a Local Zoning Issue." Trouble is, Braley never said he "supports" the mosque. Here's what happened at the Iowa State Fair:
When asked for his thoughts on the mosque, Braley said, "Well, there are a couple of thoughts. One is that local zoning decisions are made locally. Just as Iowans don't want people from outside of Iowa telling them how to make zoning decisions, this is an decision that the people of New York are going to have to deal with."
"The other one is that we have always been a country that has been based and founded on religious diversity. So, these are delicate issues because they are the types of issues that people are really passionate about, and at the same time, it's our religious diversity that has made this country great," Braley added.
When asked directly whether or not there should be a mosque built at Ground Zero. Braley said, "Well, I don't know what you are talking about, because Ground Zero is a very specific area. The mosque you are talking about is in the general area of Ground Zero."
When pressed further, Braley said, "Well, I can tell you that people should be promoting religious worship as a place where people can get their spiritual needs met, and that's a local zoning issues." He added, "It bothers me when people make statements that are outrageous and inconsistent with our American values, but those are also issues that come up all over, and it's part of our religious diversity."
The placement of the Islamic center is clearly a local zoning issue which has nothing to do with Braley's work representing Iowa's first Congressional district. In effect, The Iowa Republican blog invented Braley's "support" for the "mosque." The American Future Fund amplified that distortion on hundreds of thousands of Iowa television screens.
This commercial is only the opening shot against Braley this election year. American Future Fund spokesman Nick Ryan told Ed Tibbetts of the Quad-City Times that the group will spend "six figures" against Braley, including a series of television ads on various issues. Tibbetts noted, "Nonpartisan political analysts also have not included Iowa's 1st District in its list of competitive races across the country, so it's a surprising place for third party activity." Republican candidate Ben Lange can use the help, having little name recognition or money to spend against Braley. But I doubt this ad campaign is primarily about scoring an upset in IA-01, where Braley outpolled Barack Obama in 2008. Although Ryan told Tibbetts he thinks Braley is vulnerable, my hunch is the American Future Fund is spending now in the hope of damaging a future Democratic candidate for statewide office. Many Iowa politicos expect Braley to run for U.S. Senate if Tom Harkin retires in 2014, or if Chuck Grassley is re-elected this year and retires in 2016.
The slimiest attacks on Democrats are often funded by outside groups so that Republican candidates won't be held accountable. However, two Republicans running for office in Iowa have particularly close ties to the American Future Fund. They should go on record about whether they endorse the 501(c)4 group's tactics.
Sandy Greiner is president of the American Future Fund as well as the Republican nominee in Iowa Senate district 45. Her largest campaign donor is Nick Ryan, who has longstanding ties to the 501(c)4 group and currently chairs its board, as well as speaking for the organization to the media. Ryan gave Greiner's campaign $955 in March, $955 in April , $955 in June and $955 in July. How involved was Greiner in the American Future Fund's tactical decisions such as targeting Braley, setting a budget for the effort and approving the first misleading commercial?
Gubernatorial candidate Terry Branstad employs the American Future Fund's former president, Nicole Schlinger, and its former communications director, Tim Albrecht. Greiner headed the Draft Branstad PAC while serving as American Future Fund president. Some of Branstad's largest donors are active with the American Future Fund. For instance, Nick Ryan gave $25,000 to the Branstad campaign in December 2009 and another $25,000 in July 2010. Last fall, an acquaintance in the Des Moines business community asked me who Ryan was after receiving a call from him asking for a donation to Branstad's exploratory committee.
Prominent businessman Bruce Rastetter has been involved with the American Future Fund since its creation. His total financial support for the organization is not known, but like Ryan, he was one of the largest contributors to the American Future Fund's PAC in 2009. Rastetter gave $10,000 to the Draft Branstad PAC in September 2009. Then he gave Branstad's campaign $25,000 in October 2009, $25,000 in February 2010, $15,000 in April 2010, and $25,000 in July 2010. As if that weren't enough, Rastetter's brother Brent gave the Branstad campaign $25,000 in December 2009.
Other major donors to the American Future Fund's PAC, such as Gerald Kirke and Marilyn Howard, are also among the largest donors to Branstad's gubernatorial campaign. Kirke and Bruce Rastetter were at the center of efforts to recruit Branstad back into politics.
Given the immense financial stake American Future Fund backers have in his campaign, Branstad should make clear whether he stands by or disavows the group's smear tactics. I doubt he's upset by the sleight of hand against Braley, because Branstad has been running false and debunked ads against Governor Chet Culver. Even if Branstad did feel the American Future Fund was a bit unfair toward Braley, he's not the profile in courage type. Look at his lame reaction to Iowa RNC member Kim Lehman claiming President Barack Obama is a secret Muslim.
Greiner owes it to voters in Iowa Senate district 45 to explain her role in shaping the American Future Fund's political message, in 2008 as well as this year.
In addition, since the American Future Fund's charge against Braley rests solely on Craig Robinson's flimsy headline-writing, more transparency about the relationship between the 501(c)4 group and The Iowa Republican blog is in order. Now's a good time for journalists to explore questions such as: Did the American Future Fund or its key players provide funding to launch the blog or support its operations? Have staff or key supporters of the American Future Fund written copy for the blog, or shaped its editorial focus?
Regular readers of The Iowa Republican may have noticed that Robinson and featured blogger Krusty Konservative seem to share the perspective of a certain faction in the Iowa GOP. After Rastetter and his buddies escalated the Branstad recruitment project last summer, The Iowa Republican's coverage of then front-runner Bob Vander Plaats became noticeably less friendly. The blog also sounded discouraging notes about Brad Zaun's Congressional ambitions, as Republicans including Rastetter and Ryan were getting ready to roll out a different candidate, Jim Gibbons, in Iowa's third district.
Share any relevant thoughts in this thread.