Conservative fund taps "Willie Horton" producer for new mosque ad

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The American Future Fund, which aims to almost triple its issue advertisement spending for this year’s election, launched a hard-hitting television ad today using the proposed Islamic mosque in New York City to attack Iowa GOP candidate Ben Lange’s Democratic opponent.

After spending about $8 million in 2008 on issue ads in several states, the fund expects to pour between $20 million and $25 million into political ads on both coasts with a heavy focus on the House, the fund’s founder Nick Ryan told the Center for Public Integrity.

The new ad in Iowa attacks Democratic Rep. Bruce Braley’s support for a proposed Islamic mosque in New York City near the site of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Braley has defended the proposal on the grounds of religious freedom.

The ad — entitled “Mosque” — seems likely to excite more passion about the controversial issue that has divided lawmakers in both political parties. It’s opening lines: “For centuries, Muslims built mosques where they won military victories. Now they want to build a mosque at ground zero.”

The new 30-second ad was produced by Larry McCarthy, Ryan said. McCarthy, who Ryan says does a lot of ads for the fund, is a prominent GOP media consultant behind the racially-tinged ad in 1988 that used parolee Willie Horton to accuse Democrat Michael Dukakis of being soft on crime.

A spokesman for Braley said, “It’s deplorable the issue is being used for political gain.”

In coming weeks, Ryan says American Future Fund expects to run issue ads in California and New Hampshire. The California ads will be aimed at helping GOP Senate candidate Carly Fiorina defeat Democratic incumbent Barbara Boxer, but the New Hampshire ads are still being mulled.

Later this month and in September, the fund plans to step up its activity to focus mainly on House races. The fund will be active in “more than a dozen House races,” Ryan says. “We go to places where the issues environment is ripe.”

The fund, he adds, expects to “do a blend” of issue ads and direct advocacy ads. Issue ads focus on a candidate’s record but stop short of urging viewers to vote for or against a candidate while direct advocacy ads endorse or oppose a specific candidate. Direct advocacy ads are becoming more widely used thanks to the U.S. Supreme Court’s historic ruling earlier this year in Citizens United v. the FEC, allowing corporations and unions to spend unlimited sums on them.

As a 501(c)(4), the American Future Fund does not have to publicly disclose its contributors, a big plus for many corporate donors. Ryan, who worked for former Iowa Rep. Jim Nussle for seven years and ran his political action committee, declined to comment on the fund’s contributors, saying only that “we have donors of all sizes in all 50 states.” Sources familiar with the group say that some donors have given at least $1 million.

Asked how this year’s fundraising climate compares to others, Ryan described it as “the best I’ve ever seen on the conservative GOP side.”

Why is American Future Fund attracting so much money? Part of the answer may lie with the fund’s big list of Washington GOP operatives such as McCarthy, pollster Jan Van Lohuizen and election lawyer Ben Ginsberg who have plenty of cachet with conservative financial angels.

American Future Fund’s earlier this year poured about $1 million into television ads and other efforts in Massachusetts to elect Republican Scott Brown to the Senate seat held for decades by Edward Kennedy. The fund also kicked in about $2 million for ads attacking Tom Campbell before California’s Republican primary, which was won by Fiorina.