Norm Coleman's American Action Network Responsible For Sleaziest Ad Of The Cycle

October 25, 2010 10:31 am ET — Matt Finkelstein

About a month before the 2008 election, then-Sen. Norm Coleman (R-MN) announced that he was suspending all negative ads against his Democratic rival Al Franken. Coleman cited "real concerns and fear" brought on by the economic crisis as the reason for his decision, saying that "people want hope." He added, "It's a rule of thumb on both sides of the political aisle that negative ads work. I'm willing to put that theory to a test."

Norm Coleman

But after losing to Franken in a recount, Coleman appears to have changed his mind about the appropriateness of negative ads in tough economic times: Coleman's conservative "action tank," the American Action Network (AAN), is responsible for arguably the sleaziest attack ad of this election cycle. 

As Political Correction previously noted, AAN is running ads against several House Democrats, accusing them of voting to provide Viagra for sex offenders in the health care reform bill. However, as points out, there is "nothing in the legislation that supports, requires or even mentions such prescriptions." So why is AAN suggesting otherwise? 

Last March, Senate Democrats killed an eleventh-hour amendment introduced by Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK) that would have banned coverage of erectile dysfunction drugs for sex offenders. While the idea may sound like a no-brainer, it was just one of many "politically juiced-up amendments" Coburn introduced in an effort to derail the bill, all of which were defeated. The Viagra amendment was such a transparent stunt that it wasn't even included in Coburn's own alternative health care bill. 

In other words, Norm Coleman and AAN are attacking House Democrats over juvenile Republican games in the Senate.  Even worse, the strategists behind the ad appear to be rather pleased with themselves:

E-mails between the players behind a health-care reform ad attacking Congressman Ed Perlmutter show they wanted the commercial to continue to run — despite concerns it contained errors — until their new spot was ready to air.

"When we do we have the new ad?" Bruce Haynes at Purple Strategies asked on Wednesday.  "... I want to make sure this stays on till the new one ships." [...]

 "If this ad gets 'em this worked up, imagine what they're gonna do when the next one goes live," wrote Kevin Wright, founder and director of Old Dominion Research Group.

The e-mails were also sent to Pete Meachum and Rob Collins with American Action Network, the outside group paying for more $1 million worth of attack ads against Perlmutter, a Golden Democrat running against Republican Ryan Frazier.

All told, the American Action Network has spent around $17 million from anonymous sources to run more than 9,000 ads since August 1, according to ad data reviewed by Political Correction.  As the Minnesota Independent explains, "because it is incorporated as a 501(c)4 'social welfare' nonprofit, the D.C.-based AAN does not publicly disclose its donors and has not listed any contributors on the independent expenditure forms it is obliged to file with the FEC."

Update: The New York Times reports on AAN's strategy in the final week before the elections:

"We carpet-bombed for two months in 82 races, now it's sniper time," said Rob Collins, president of American Action Network, which is one of the leading Republican groups this campaign season and whose chief executive is Norm Coleman, the former senator from Minnesota. "You're looking at the battle field and saying, 'Where can we marginally push — where can we close a few places out?' "