Citizen Green: Dark money for the spoiler

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Jordan Greenby Jordan Green

Dealing with the consequences of an overnight burst of exuberance from my 14-month-old daughter on Saturday morning, I boiled a pot of water for coffee and set my iPhone on Pandora to begin the task of reorganizing my CD collection.

A sales pitch for pot legalization and demilitarization delivered from a female millennial in flitting and disdainful tones over an electro-clash track was not the first thing I expected.

For those who haven’t had the misfortune to stumble across the ad, here’s the transcript: “Stop! Don’t even think about voting for Kay Hagan. She doesn’t share our values. You want legalization of marijuana? [here with a devil-may-care toss of the head]. She’s against it. You want to stop sending our troops overseas? She voted for it. Vote Sean Haugh. He shares our progressive values. Pro-legalization. Pro-environment. More weed, less war.”

Other millennials cast in the role of supposed progressives breaking ranks with the Democrats to support a true progressive include an athletic dude wearing a fresh-off-the-rack black T-shirt depicting Bob Marley in a haze of smoke and a young woman with perfect straight raven hair rocking flannel.

As someone who hails from the Marijuana Belt of Kentucky and who has attended more than my share of Rainbow Gatherings, I can say with reasonably good authority that these kids have never toked. A flannel shirt on a Junior Leaguer does not a stoner make.

The ads are financed by an outfit called American Future Fund, and an inscription at the end of the spots makes it clear that they were not authorized by Sean Haugh, the Libertarian candidate for US Senate in North Carolina.

Early reports published on Oct. 23, which turned out to be somewhat inaccurate, linked American Future Fund to the Koch brothers, infamous for spending millions of dollars on political advertising and lobbying to implement a conservative, anti-regulatory agenda.

Haugh, to his credit, quickly tweeted, “While I appreciate the support, I now have a whole new reason to despise Koch brothers & their dark money.” Since then, a spokesman for the Koch-backed Freedom Partners has told the Washington Post and other outlets that it’s been two years since his organization has given money to the American Future Fund, and that Freedom Partners has nothing to do with the effort to boost Haugh’s candidacy.

While the Koch brothers’ connection may be tenuous, “dark money” is an apt description for the effort. The Center for Responsive Politics, a Washington-based election watchdog outfit, reports that as a 501(c)(4) organization, American Future Fund is not legally required to disclose its donors.

The organization’s pattern of spending makes its agenda clear: In 2012, American Future Fund spent $12.4 million on ads in favor of Mitt Romney, while spending $8.4 million on spots opposing Barack Obama. The group has spent $225,000 on its ad campaign to promote Libertarian Sean Haugh’s campaign for US Senate in North Carolina, while spending $694,967 and $545,482 respectively on ad campaigns against Democratic candidates John Barrow in Georgia and Julia Brownlee in California.

Make no mistake: The “more weed, less war” ad campaign is a cynical ploy to draw votes away from Democrat Kay Hagan. The shadowy network of secret donors behind the ad have no interest in a progressive agenda, and given that Haugh has zero chance of winning, the real purpose is to demoralize part of Hagan’s constituency and discourage them from going to the polls.

Most polling over the past month has given Democrat Hagan a 2- to 3-point lead over Republican Thom Tillis. While 5 percent of likely voters interviewed recently by Public Policy Polling said they would vote for Haugh, the Libertarian candidate’s supporters leaned towards Hagan over Tillis by only a small percentage. In other words, the race is too close to call and extremely fluid, with Haugh potentially playing the spoiler for either of the major-party candidates.

It’s true that Hagan’s first term in the Senate has given progressives little to get excited about. She was one of five Democrats who voted against allowing the DREAM Act to come up for a vote in the US Senate in December 2010 — which could have potentially created a pathway of citizenship for undocumented immigrants before the Republicans took control of the US House the following year. She expressed support for card-check legislation — a measure with the potential to reverse the erosion of union membership in the United States — which went absolutely nowhere, even when the Democrats held control over both houses of Congress, along with the White House.

The truth is — and this is meant in no way to discourage anyone from going to the polls — that with the possible exception of Rand Paul, no US senator makes much of mark on his own.

What’s really at stake in this election is which party holds control of the chamber after Nov. 4. If the Democrats hold the Senate, they will remain at loggerheads with the Republican-controlled House — budget impasses and brinksmanship, general dysfunction and paralysis. If the Republicans take the Senate, Congress will pass a flurry of bills gutting regulation and slashing spending on social welfare programs, which President Obama will then promptly veto.

In either case, both parties are setting up a high-stakes game to see who voters will blame the most for the dysfunction in the game for the biggest prize of all: the presidency in 2016.