Lobbyist-led Dark Money Group buys pro-Schrader ads in hotly contested Oregon primary – Sludge

A second ‘dark money’ group, controlled by telecommunications and fossil fuel industry lobbyists, is parachuting in to promote Rep. Kurt Schrader ahead of his hotly contested Democratic primary with challenger Jamie McLeod-Skinner in the fifth Oregon’s congressional district.

The Better Jobs Together (BJT) group is running $181,000 worth of pro-Schrader ads on TV and cable TV in the Bend, Oregon area, according to a media monitoring alert seen by Sludge. An ad touts Schrader’s work in the House, citing his vote for the infrastructure package and his co-sponsorship of a Republican energy bill, among other things. In a voiceover using campaign photos of the seven-term Rep., as well as photos of puppies, the spot asks viewers to call Schrader to ask him to “continue to protect the people and pets of Oregon.” “.

Last month, in a statement to The Intercept, Schrader wrote that he was working to “address black money in politics,” among other causes. Meanwhile, the black money group Center Forward, whose directors include pharmaceutical industry lobbyists and is closely tied to the Blue Dog Coalition chaired by PAC Schrader, was spending $385,000 on TV and digital ads to bolster Schrader’s reputation for prescription drug pricing. and other issues. The Schrader campaign did not respond to requests for comment on campaign aid from either black money group, in what a poll showed as a neck and neck race.

The spots are BJT’s first ad buy in the Oregon primary, but this year the shadowy group spent a lot of money on ads for fellow Blue Dog Coalition member Henry Cuellar, who faces a backlash. a Democratic primary challenge in a South Texas district. In early February, NBC News reported that BJT had been the biggest advertising spender in the race, spending $1.4 million on Cuellar’s behalf.

By avoiding language specifically saying elect Schrader or defeat his opponent and airing the ads more than 30 days before the election, BJT has so far evaded the Federal Election Commission’s definition of “election communications” and does not is therefore not required to report its advertising activity. .

The Better Jobs Together website doesn’t say who’s behind the group, showing only its vaporous ads, including one from August supporting Arizona Sen. Kyrsten Sinema. At the time, Sinema was one of the conservative Democrats blocking Democrats’ sweeping Build Back Better Act in Congress, rejecting its dollar amount and opposing a proposed tax rate increase for millionaires. More centrist Democrats featured in BJT ads on its website include a trio of U.S. Representatives from Texas: Lizzie Fletcher, who has proposed an oil industry bailout during the pandemic; Marc Veasey, one of four co-chairs of the bipartisan F-35 Joint Strike Fighter Committee; and Vicente Gonzalez, another Blue Dog whose second career donor has been the oil and gas industry, according to OpenSecrets.

Although BJT’s website does not disclose any information about its funders, board of directors, mission, or contact information, FCC records show that it listed an address in Arlington, Va., and that its treasurer is Rene Ramirez, a political consultant based around McAllen, Texas, whose website highlights his “long history as a behind-the-scenes player in Hidalgo County’s economic development.” An inquiry into BJT’s ad spend left with Ramirez’s Pathfinder Public Affairs company, which was given as BJT’s phone number in FCC files, went unanswered. As a Texas lobbyist, Ramirez’s nearly two dozen clients include the pipeline company Energy Transfer, AT&T, and the tobacco company formerly known as Reynolds American. He also lobbies the state for Las Vegas Sands Corp., the casino company of the late Sheldon Adelson, a billionaire Republican megadonor, and his wife Miriam.

Documents from the Virginia State Corporation Commission show that the Better Jobs Together campaign, the group sponsoring the ads, was formed on April 19, 2021. The first ads featured on its website, for Gonzalez, were posted on YouTube about a month ago. later on May 27. BJT’s founder and attorney, according to an Oregon attorney supporting the McLeod-Skinner campaign who spoke to him to confirm his role, is Megan H. Troy, a DC attorney and former lobbyist who the Troy Law Group says he is. specializes in telecommunications and public procurement for technology companies. Sludge’s requests to Megan Troy went unanswered. During the years 2005-2007, Troy was a federal lobbyist with the multinational law firm K&L Gates for the New Mexico rural telecommunications company Sacred Wind Communications. Troy previously lobbied Houston-based law firm Vinson & Elkins LLP for clients including Portland utility company General Electric, building materials company Southdown and 7-Eleven.

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If BJT is incorporated as a 501(c)(4) nonprofit organization, its annual disclosure to the IRS will not be submitted until this year, and judging by its uniform pattern of secrecy, there is little likely to disclose its donors. That means voters will likely never know who funded BJT’s ads. IRS guidelines say no more than half of a nonprofit’s activities can be political, but enforcement of campaign finance laws such as nonprofit spending thresholds is lacking , with the agency often blocked by three commissioners from each major political party.

Schrader was one of three Democrats on the House Energy and Commerce Committee who voted last year to block a major legislative provision aimed at reducing the cost of prescription drugs by allowing Medicare to negotiate certain purchases. basically. In the last election cycle, he was among the top 20 House Democratic recipients of PAC money, according to OpenSecrets, and received less than 2% of his campaign funds in small dollar donations of $200 or less.

The BJT announcement highlights Schrader’s vote for HR 6833, a bill that would cap copayments on insulin products starting in 2023 for patients with private health insurance or the Medicare prescription drug coverage. The bill passed the House on March 31 by a vote of 232 to 193, although Schrader was not among the bill’s 31 Democratic co-sponsors. While covering the high cost of essential treatments has long been a goal of House Democrats, the insulin measure sent to the Senate has been criticized by experts like Larry Levitt, executive vice president for health policy. health at the Kaiser Family Foundation, for not doing much. the high cost of essential drugs from highly profitable pharmaceutical companies, or improving access for those without health insurance.

“From his Big Pharma checks to allowing anonymous groups to support his campaign, Kurt Schrader has no problem taking corporate money and black money,” said Jamie McLeod-Skinner, coordinator of the emergency response and attorney at Sludge. “As Oregonians struggle to afford prescription drugs and housing, Schrader is blocking lower prescription drug prices for its Big Pharma donors. That’s why I’m not taking PAC money from corporations and supporting a ban on members of Congress trading stocks.

Last week, McLeod-Skinner’s campaign announced that it had raised $540,000 in individual contributions, including more than $305,000 in the first quarter of this year, from more than 2,000 Oregonians, with 88% contributing. under $200. By the end of last year, Schrader’s campaign had brought in nearly $3.6 million in cash. The media monitoring alert seen by Sludge tallied ad spend for the Schrader campaign at $940,000 ahead of the primary. In a rare step, four of the district’s six Democratic county parties endorsed the challenger, McLeod-Skinner, one of the parties citing his research into Schrader’s voting record in favor of corporate-backed policies.

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