TIME 2014 Election

Midterm Elections See a Surge in Ads About Energy and Environment

Projected to hit highest level ever

Political ads about energy and the environment will likely reach their highest number ever this election cycle, according to the Cook Political Report.

While these issues usually don’t rule the national polls of top midterm election priorities, there are several competitive races this cycle with energy at the forefront, especially in the Senate. There is also new outside money being spent on environmental issues, particularly from billionaire Tom Steyer, who has spent a reported $26.6 million of his own money this cycle to raise the profile of climate change through his super-PAC NextGen Climate Action.

“We’ve already seen more spots in U.S. Senate general elections alone (87,000 as of September 12) than we saw by this point in both Senate and House races in 2008 (56,000),” writes Elizabeth Wilner, a Senior Vice President of Kantar Media Ad Intelligence and contributing editor of the Cook Political Report. “If you add in 2014 House spots, we’ve nearly doubled the 2008 number (102,000). And with overall trends in advertising being what they are, with spot counts increasing over time, logic points to 2014 being the biggest cycle for energy/environment-related advertising, ever.”

Many of the “toss-up” Senate races this year have candidates bashing each other over energy industries that are economically or culturally important to the state. The prospect of the Keystone XL pipeline has ignited races from Michigan down to Louisiana, where Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) is trying to prove how her chairmanship on the Energy and Natural Resources Committee will help the state increase its offshore oil and gas drilling in the Gulf of Mexico.

In Kentucky, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has campaigned on his commitment to fight the “War on Coal” while his Democratic rival, Kentucky Secretary of State Allison Lundergan Grimes, hit the airwaves to put distance between herself and President Barack Obama on the issue. In Colorado, the support for the green energy industry has thrust Republican Rep. Cory Gardner’s and Democratic Sen. Mark Udall’s campaigns to cut ads with their candidates in front of wind turbines. And in Alaska, Democratic Sen. Mark Beigch has aired an ad of him driving a snowmobile over the ice of the Arctic Ocean to tout his efforts to expand drilling there. In a response ad for Republican opponent Dan Sullivan—a former commissioner of the Alaska’s Department of Natural Resourcesan X Games medalist criticized Begich’s “lame tricks,” driving skills and voting record.

Some energy industries appear to have a have a greater hold than others on donors’ wallets. While Democrats and Republicans are spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to figure out who is more pro-coal in Rep. Nick Rahall’s southern West Virginia district, NextGen Climate Action has yet to receive much support, receiving four donations of $250, $500, $300 and $2,500 in August, according to Bloomberg.

TIME 2014 Election

Legal Threats Continue to Fly in New Hampshire Senate Race

New Hampshire Senate candidate Scott Brown faces new ethics complaint over his personal financal disclosure form

Legal complaints have become the new press release in New Hampshire this week, as Republican Senate candidate Scott Brown and his opponents turned to official threats to score political points.

It started Sunday, when New Hampshire Senate candidate Scott Brown threatened to sue Harvard Professor Lawrence Lessig after a outside group he runs called him a “lobbyist” in a campaign mailer, despite the fact that Brown has never registered as a lobbyist. “If you fail to immediately cease the mailer in question, we are leaving all our legal options on the table,” wrote Colin Reed, the campaign manager of New Hampshire for Scott Brown.

Then on Friday, a liberal group, the American Democracy Legal Fund, took its own shot, filing papers with the Senate Select Committee on Ethics requesting an investigation into whether Brown violated federal law by failing to identify certain clients from his work at a law firm in his personal finance disclosure form. The request was signed by Brad Woodhouse, a former spokesman for the Democratic Party, who also runs American Bridge, an opposition research group working to defeat Republican candidates this fall. Brown is down around five points in a tight race against Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), according to an aggregation of polling data conducted by Real Clear Politics.

Brown campaign’s blasted the American Democracy Legal Fund’s ethics complaint.

“This is a partisan Democratic group whose purpose is to file frivolous complaints against Republican candidates,” said Brown spokeswoman Elizabeth Guyton. “Their claims have absolutely no merit.”

Neither threat is likely to result in much legal action, but both moves are meant to make headlines. Indeed Brown has seen—and used—similar tactics before. In Brown’s 2012 Massachusetts reelection campaign against Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Warren and Brown traded barbs demanding that the other reveal his or her legal clients. The American Democracy Legal Fund, meanwhile, has been busy over the last several months, filing other ethics complaints against Republican Senate candidates in Louisiana and North Carolina, which also helped to generate negative news coverage.

The fund’s newest claim, that Brown was required to disclose more about his clients when he worked at the law firm Nixon Peabody, is unlikely to lead to sanctions against Brown, says Norm Ornstein, a congressional scholar at the American Enterprise Institute. There is an exemption under the Ethics in Government Act (EGA) that protects information under attorney-client privilege. “There are two elements here,” says Ornstein. “Senate ethics rules, which it appears do require a listing of clients and services, and the Ethics Act, which requires sources of income but so far as I can tell does not specify law firm clients.”

“The problem with the former is that the Ethics Committee has no real power over former members,” he adds. “It could, in theory, send a letter chastising Brown, but that is all. It is more likely that he has a moral obligation under Senate rules to disclose than a legal obligation under the EGA.”

Lessig has defended his mailer by saying that the legal definition of “lobbyist” under Senate rules was not the one he referenced in the mailer. “According to the Senate, Scott Brown isn’t a ‘lobbyist,'” Lessig wrote in a blog post after receiving the legal threat from Brown’s campaign. “But I submit to anyone else in the world, a former Senator joining a ‘law and lobbying firm’ to help with Wall St’s ‘business and governmental affairs’ is to make him a lobbyist.”

TIME 2014 elections

Scott Brown Threatens Lawsuit Over Being Called a ‘Washington Lobbyist’

Former Republican U.S. Sen. of Mass. Scott Brown waits before a televised debate on Sept. 4, 2014 at WMUR in Manchester, N.H.
Former Republican U.S. Sen. of Mass. Scott Brown waits before a televised debate on Sept. 4, 2014 at WMUR in Manchester, N.H. Jim Cole—AP

At issue is the federal government’s definition of the word “lobbyist”. The Republican Senate candidate for New Hampshire currently trails his opponent by 6 points

The campaign for New Hampshire Republican Senate candidate Scott Brown threatened to sue Harvard professor Lawrence Lessig Sunday over a mailer calling Brown a “former Washington lobbyist.” Lessig’s Super PAC to end Super PACs, Mayday PAC, wrote the mailer in support of one of Brown’s Republican rivals, former state Sen. Jim Rubens, and to decry special interests’ influence in Washington.

“Scott Brown is not nor has he ever been a lobbyist,” wrote Colin Reed, Brown’s campaign manager, in a blistering letter to Lessig. “Ever… If you fail to immediately cease the mailer in question, we are leaving all our legal options on the table.”

Reed also said that Lessig’s actions violated Harvard’s honor code.

At issue is the federal government’s definition of the word “lobbyist” versus the popular one, i.e. “one who influences government official’s decisions.” The federal government considers only individuals who lobby 20 percent or more of his or her professional time serving a client as a “lobbyist.” In 2013, Nixon Peabody law firm hired Brown to advise in business and governmental affairs matters, focusing on the financial services and commercial real estate industries.

Lessig responded to the letter quoting the words of Clint Eastwood’s character “Dirty Harry” Callahan — “Go ahead; Make my day” — and offered to openly debate whether Brown was a “lobbyist.” Lessig also asked Brown if it was better to call Brown a former Massachusetts senator “who sold his influence to a DC lobbying firm.” Former Republican New Hampshire senator Gordon Humphrey, who cut an ad for Rubens on behalf of Mayday, released a statement calling Brown a former “lobbyist.”

Brown has narrowed the gap between himself and the incumbent, Democratic Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, from 10 to 6 percentage points, according to a recent New York Times/CBS News/ YouGov survey.

TIME 2014 Midterm Election

The ‘Super PAC to End All Super PACs’ Is Backing These Candidates

The 18th Annual Webby Awards - Inside
Professor Lawrence Lessig poses backstage at the 18th Annual Webby Awards on May 19, 2014 in New York City. Theo Wargo—2014 Getty Images

And gives Congress an ultimatum before revealing its entire slate

The Mayday Super PAC, a crowdfunded Political Action Committee designed to support pro-campaign finance reform politicians, announced two of the candidates it will support in the upcoming 2014 midterm elections.

The PAC is supporting State Senator Jim Reubens in the New Hampshire Republican Senate primary. It’s also supporting Democrat Staci Appel in the race to represent Iowa’s third congressional district.

Reubens has made “fundamental reform to the way campaigns are funded” a central platform in his campaign, the group said. In that race, the group is also opposing former Massachusetts Senator Scott Brown, who it says opposes several key campaign finance reform measures and supports the lightning rod Citizens United Supreme Court decision. Appel, meanwhile, is also a dedicated campaign finance reformer.

Mayday PAC has said it will support a total of five candidates in this year’s midterms. However, it has left three of the five candidates it will ultimately support unannounced as a “warning shot,” as the group calls it, to other politicians.

“If a candidate for Congress wants to be inoculated from being on our target list,” the group said in a press release Monday, “there is an easy way to do so: get on the right side of reform.”

Mayday PAC says candidates have until 5 p.m. eastern time on August 5 to meet the group’s requirements or else risk being named a target. Whether any candidates will switch their positions on campaign finance reform as a result of the groups’ ultimatum remains to be seen.

The “Super PAC to end all Super PACs” was launched by the academic and campaign finance reform activist Lawrence Lessig. The group has raised $7.7 million to spend influencing key races this year, much of it Kickstarter-style through small donations.

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