2017 U.S. Senate Race

Little-Known PACs Fund a Deluge of Ads in the Days Leading Up to the Senate Election

Doug Jones and Roy Moore campaign at recent events (Sources: Doug Jones for Senate, Wikimedia Commons; Judge Roy Moore for U.S. Senate, Facebook)

Alabama’s two U.S Senate candidates and independent groups working on their behalf have raised more than $20 million that they are using to bombard voters with broadcast and internet ads, mail, and phone calls as the Dec. 12 special election approaches.

The candidates’ final pre-election financial reports, filed with the Federal Election Commission on Nov. 22, show Democrat Doug Jones has raised $11,707,585 this year, with $10,182,025 coming in since Oct. 1, a few days after the Republican runoff. Republican Roy Moore reported a total of $5,260,974, with $1,767,693 of that collected during the same period.

The FEC has not finished processing reports filed by the two candidates. Summaries of the reports are available, but the agency was still working Friday on more detailed lists showing people, PACs and committees and the amounts they gave to Moore and Jones.

PACs In for At Least $5.7M

In addition to the money contributed to the candidates, outside groups and political action committees reported spending about $5.7 million in support or opposition of Moore and Jones since Moore won the GOP nomination Sept. 26. Much of that money flooded in during the final few weeks of the campaign. These groups are required to operate independently of the candidates in raising money and paying for broadcast ads and other activities related to the election.

The majority of the money spent by independent groups came from Highway 31, a super PAC named after the federal highway that dissects the state, running through the Huntsville, Birmingham, Montgomery and Mobile areas. Through Dec. 3, Highway 31 reported spending just more than $4.4 million on the campaign, mostly for a barrage of television ads attacking Moore and supporting Jones.

The PAC, led by political strategist Adam Muhlendorf of Montgomery and Birmingham attorney Ed Still, took what appears to be a circuitous approach to its fundraising and spending activities.

The FEC required candidates, PACS and others to file reports by Nov. 22 listing their contributions and expenditures before that date. Highway 31’s report showed no contributions, disbursements or cash on hand; the only amount listed on the report was “debts/loans owed by committee” of $1,154,844. Most of that is owed to Bully Pulpit Interactive, a liberal media firm in Washington, and Waterfront Strategies, also a Democratic media-buying firm in Washington, The Washington Post reported.

“We are a single-issue PAC that was formed for the sole purpose of helping Doug Jones be the next senator from Alabama,” Muhlendorf told the Post.

Highway 31 apparently was able to legally avoid disclosing its donors. The PAC began work on the Senate race on Nov. 8, the Post reported, but delayed actually paying bills for those expenditures until after it filed the Nov. 22 report.

Highway 31 also did not accept donations until after that report had been filed. The next reports, which must disclose the names of donors and details of expenditures, are due at the end of this year, after the winner of the race has been determined.

Besides Highway 31, several other independent groups have been active in the campaign since Moore won the Republican nomination in September. Through Thursday, 22 independent groups had funded activity for and against the two candidates, the Center for Public Integrity reported. Half of those had disclosed the names, addresses and contribution amounts of people who gave them money through Nov. 22, the center reported.

A pro-Moore group, Our Future in America Inc., also worked around disclosure requirements. It produced a series of ads in late September, then went silent in October and November, the Center for Public Integrity reported. Early this month, the group spent $35,000 on pro-Moore ads on social media, and it won’t have to publicly report its last-minute donors until after the election.

Among those active in buying ads is True Conservative PAC, which has reported spending $234,000 on the campaign, according to the Center for Pubic Integrity. The PAC was formed in August to support Moore and has benefited from $100,00 contributed by Richard Uihlein, CEO of Uline Inc., a distributor of shipping supplies, the center reported.

Here are some of the top spenders among the independent groups that were active during the final months of the campaign.

Top-spending supporters of Moore among the independent groups were the Senate Conservatives Fund, founded by former Republican Sen. Jim DeMent of South Carolina to support conservative candidates, $42,115; Conservative Majority PAC, which supported Sen. Ted Cruz for president last year, $49,491; Solution Fund PAC, founded by Baton Rouge businessman John Mathis, $44,624; and Patriots for Economic Freedom, a conservative group promoting lower taxes, less spending and a balanced budget, $40,000.

Among the other leading spenders in opposition to Moore was the Color of Change PAC, which opposes racial injustice in the economy, justice system and the media, at $10,634.

Those spending money on behalf of Jones included USW Works, affiliated with the United Steelworkers Union, $29,010; and Change of Color PAC, $10,634

The top independent spenders for ads and other activities opposing Jones were the Great America PAC, a leading supporter of President Donald Trump in 2016, $140,000; and Restore Our Godly Heritage PAC, which mainly supports Moore, $67,005.