The attorney general's race isn't getting much coverage in Iowa print or broadcast media. Higher-profile campaigns for governor and U.S. Senate, as well as the unprecedented drive to oust Iowa Supreme Court judges, don't leave much of a "news hole" for candidates seeking down-ballot statewide offices. I doubt many Iowans caught Attorney General Tom Miller and Republican Brenna Findley's debate, since it has only been broadcast at odd hours on Mediacom Channel 22. The candidates had little time to discuss issues in depth during their joint appearance on Iowa Public Television.
As a result, 30-second commercials during news and entertainment programs will be all most Iowa voters see about the attorney general race. This week new ads targeting Miller and Findley hit Iowa tv screens. To my knowledge, none of the video clips have been posted online, but I taped the ads. Transcripts and descriptions of the visuals are below. UPDATE: Scroll down for a description of the Findley campaign's latest commercial.
Findley is still running the commercial I described here, but she now has outside help too. The Iowa-based 501(c)4 group American Future Fund paid for this commercial:
Female voice-over: Government-run health care. [picture of Capitol building in Washington, DC]
Fewer choices for patients. [stock footage of hospital, with patients and doctors disappearing.]
Higher costs for employers. [hand turning sign in store window from OPEN to CLOSED]
More and higher taxes on Iowans. [hand writing "INTERNAL REVENUE" on piece of paper]
And now job losses for Iowans. [Man in shirt and tie carrying box and potted plant, as if having just cleaned out his office.]
No wonder taxpayers demand this out-of-control law be overturned. [photo of big stack of paper, presumably the printed text of health care reform law]
That's why attorneys general around the country are calling for its repeal on a bipartisan basis. [judge's gavel striking]
Iowans are demanding that Tom Miller join this fight before government-run health care ruins our health care system. [photo of Miller, words on screen "DEMAND TOM MILLER JOIN THE FIGHT"]
Call Tom Miller. Tell him to act before it's too late. Paid for by American Future Fund. [photo of Miller stays on screen, words "CALL 515-281-5164" appear above "DEMAND TOM MILLER JOIN THE FIGHT," and words "BEFORE IT'S TOO LATE" appear below.]
The American Future Fund puts that "call so-and-so wording" in its advertising so they can claim they are spending money on issue advocacy rather than campaign commercials supporting or opposing a candidate. However, a commercial that appears a week before the election, which happens to feature a central theme of the Republican candidate's campaign, sure looks like campaign advertising to me. Findley's own commercials mention her call for Iowa's attorney general to join the fight against the health care reform law. She brings up the issue in all her stump speeches and raised it several times during her debate with Miller.
This commercial is inaccurate in that the lawsuit filed by some attorney generals wouldn't repeal the whole federal health care reform law. It challenges the mandate to buy individual health insurance. If the lawsuit is successful, that provision would be invalidated.
The American Future Fund also misleads viewers by claiming Iowans will suffer if Miller doesn't join the fight "before it's too late." The case will be litigated whether or not Iowa's attorney general signs on. When the questionable provision is either upheld or struck down, the impact will be the same on all Americans, whether or not they live in a state whose attorney general joined the lawsuit.
The Progress Project, an Iowa organization closely linked to the American Future Fund, is also spending money to attack Miller too. This commercial recently started running:
Female voice-over: 114,000 Iowans are out of work. [Sad-looking middle-aged man, words on screen: "114,000 Iowans out of work" Source: IowaWorkforce.org]
Property taxes are going up. [Foreclosure sign, words on screen "RISING property taxes"]
Iowans are trimming their budgets to get by [sad-looking older woman, words on screen "Iowans BARELY getting by." Source appears to be some statement issued by Iowa House Republicans.]
And Tom Miller protected an agency director who grossly misused tens of thousands of dollars. [Photos of Tom Miller and Lynn Walding, former director of Iowa Alcoholic Beverages division, words on screen "TOM MILLER PROTECTED DIRECTOR WALDING, Des Moines Register 7/11/10"]
The director was caught red-handed, but Tom Miller blocked the governor from firing him. [words on screen "DIRECTOR CAUGHT RED-HANDED TOM MILLER BLOCKED DIRECTOR'S FIRING"]
Tell Tom Miller in hard times like these, wasting our money is irresponsible. Government should protect our tax dollars, not let wasteful spenders get off. [words on screen "CALL TOM MILLER 515-281-5164 WASTING OUR MONEY IS UNACCEPTABLE Paid for by Progress Project."]
Click here for background on the controversy surrounding Walding. In 2008, Governor Chet Culver became aware of irregularities in the Alcoholic Beverages Division and sought legal advice about firing Walding. Unlike most state agency directors, the head of that division serves for a fixed term and can only be fired under specific circumstances. Miller advised the governor that he didn't have grounds to remove Walding. The Department of Management put stricter controls on Walding's division, and Culver declined to reappoint him when his term expired this year.
The Progress Project commercial misrepresents the situation by implying Miller didn't care about Walding wasting taxpayer money.
After running a positive ad for a couple of weeks, Miller's campaign launched this spot criticizing Findley this week:
Short clip from Findley's commercial: "Findley will stop the Washington-style spending"
Male voice-over: Sure she will. [words on screen "Sure she will."
Brenna Findley had her chance to stop the Washington-style spending. She failed. [photo of Findley, word FAILED appears]
Findley took over 45 thousand dollars in special bonuses on top her her six-figure government salary. [different photo of Findley on left side of screen; on right, two stacks of money pile up, one labeled $45,000 special bonuses, the other labeled $145,000 government salary Source given is www.legistorm.com ]
Brenna Findley, whose career has been as a Washington, DC Congressional staffer, [Picture of Capitol building, words on screen "Findley's Career has been as a Washington, DC Staffer"]
now is running a negative campaign to hide the fact she's not qualified to be Iowa's attorney general. [photo of Findley, words "Not Qualified" on screen]
Iowa doesn't need an extreme partisan politician like Brenna Findley. [Words on screen: "Iowa doesn't need another extreme politician like Brenna Findley." Paid for by Iowans for Miller at bottom of screen]
Bit of a cheap shot there: Congressional aides don't have the power to rein in federal government spending, and $145,000 doesn't seem like an excessive salary for a House member's chief of staff. Without knowing the context regarding the special bonuses, $45,000 spread over the seven years Findley ran Representative Steve King's office doesn't sound unreasonable.
You may be wondering why the ad doesn't inform viewers about Findley's close ties to King--wouldn't that reinforce the message about her "extreme" partisan agenda? That was my first reaction, but under campaign finance law, any commercial that mentions a federal candidate becomes subject to federal restrictions on fundraising. Iowa doesn't have campaign contribution limits, and Iowans for Miller has received individual donations exceeding the $2,400 allowed for federal campaigns. So legally, Miller's campaign can't name King in their commercials about Findley.
I think this commercial should have left out the stuff about Findley's salary and included more on her right-wing policy stands, or her pledge not to be as tough on business when enforcing the law.
A Washington, DC-based group called the Committee for Justice and Fairness also launched an Iowa television commercial this week:
Male voice-over: Whoever said experience doesn't count has never been counted on to get justice in a courtroom. [photo of empty chairs in courtroom]
Brenna Findley talks tough on crime, but she's never tried a criminal in court. Never stopped a scam artist. Never locked up a predator. [Footage of Findley speaking into a microphone from one of her commercials; words on screen "Brenna Findley Never tried a criminal. Never stopped a scam artist. Never locked up a predator."
Findley spent years pushing a partisan agenda in Washington. [Photo of Capitol, words "Brenna Findley. More partisan politics."]
While Tom Miller's been fighting to protect out families in Iowa. [photo of Miller, words "Tom Miller Attorney General"]
Keeping sexual predators behind bars. [photo of jail cells, words "Tom Miller Keeping predators behind bars, Associated Press, 6/14/06"
And taking on the big banks to stop foreclosures. [photo of residential street, words "Iowa AG seeks to halt foreclosures," Associated Press 10/07/10]
Tom Miller: Attorney General. [photo of him at podium in court, Tom Miller-Attorney General. In small print at bottom of screen: Paid for by Committee for Justice and Fairness, PO Box 3526 Washington DC 20027 Dana Bykowski, chairperson. Not authorized by any candidate or candidate's committee.]
This strikes me as the most effective ad of the four. Findley's inexperience in the practice of law should give voters pause. Ideally, voters would be informed about who she worked for in Congress, but that's not possible because of the campaign finance rules I discussed above. I wasn't able to find information about funding for the Committee for Justice and Fairness, but its website gives the impression of a group connected to organized labor.
Share any thoughts about the attorney general's race in this thread. I will update the post if I can find any videos of these commercials on YouTube.
UPDATE: There's another attack ad on Miller, this one focusing on sex predators. I don't know whether Findley's campaign or an outside group is running that one. After I catch it on tape, I will update with details.
SECOND UPDATE: I taped it after the 10 pm news on Channel 8. Findley for Iowa paid for this one:
Male voice-over: Tom Miller finally confessed. [words on screen: "Tom Miller finally confessed:"]
Miller clip from October 17, 2010: We didn't catch it, we should have. [Miller speaking at left side of screen, with date October 17, 2010; on right side, words "We didn't catch it, we should have."]
Voice-over: Miller's missed deadline led to violent sexual predators being ordered released. [words on screen: "Tom Miller Missed deadline led to violent sexual predators being ordered released." photos of two defendants near bottom of screen]
Miller clip from October 17: We didn't catch it, we should have. The person ultimately was released. [Miller speaking at left side of screen, with date October 17, 2010; on right side, words "We didn't catch it, we should have. The person ultimately was released."]
Voice-over: All because Tom Miller didn't know the law. Will it happen again? [words on screen: "Tom Miller Didn't know the law. Will it happen again?"]
Miller clip from October 20 debate with Findley: It will happen from time to time. [footage of Miller speaking on October 20 on right side of screen; on left side, words "It will happen from time to time."]
Voice-over: How many times will sex predators be released before Tom Miller gets it? [shot of jail cell with door opening, words on screen "How many times will sex predators be released before Tom Miller gets it?" Sex predators outlined in red for emphasis.]
Brenna Findley will keep Iowa safe. [shot of Findley standing in front of row of law enforcement officers]
Brenna Findley for attorney general. [shot of Findley talking to people, then Findley standing beside Terry Branstad, waving to a crowd. At bottom of screen, words "Paid for by Findley for Iowa"]
Given how many times Findley brought up the sex offenders' release during her debate with Miller, I figured something like this was coming. Miller provided some context surrounding those cases in the debate, but my notes didn't catch everything he said verbatim, so here's the explanation he gave during the candidates' joint appearance on Iowa Public Television on October 17:
She mentions two cases, missed deadlines. She doesn't tell the full story there. What happened in one is that usually the judge sets the deadlines within 90 days. He deferred to the court administrator. The court administrator set it a few days beyond. We didn't catch it and we should have. The person -- the person ultimately was released by the Supreme Court. The other case it went up to -- it went up to the Supreme Court. There was an appeal during the proceedings. The case then came back and there were only, like seven or ten days left. The judge then looked at the calendar, thought that he had the authority to set it later on. We did. Everybody did, including the court of appeals. The Supreme Court reversed. So there was much more -- much more to this story. We're not perfect but we do a great job. We prosecute criminals. We do the sex predators. Our record is a strong one. We have among the best prosecutors and the best lawyers in the state.
Miller also noted during the debate that one of the offenders who was released is now in custody, because his office worked with the county attorney in Omaha to get him arrested on a prior offense. Of course, the thousands of Iowans who see Findley's tv ad won't hear that context.
I have no idea how undecided voters will weigh this mistake by Miller's office against Findley's total lack of experience with prosecuting criminals.