Commentary

Woodhouse claims dark money ads during election were not political

Here’s your ridiculous claim of Thanksgiving week from a story by the Center for Public Integrity.  Dallas Woodhouse of the right-wing advocacy group Carolina Rising says the 4,000 ads the group ran praising Republican Thom Tillis during the recent U.S. Senate race were not political at all.

They were just about issues and happened to mention the Republican candidate running against Senator Kay Hagan in the most closely watched Senate race in the country. Gee, what a coincidence.

In August, Carolina Rising ran more TV ads than either Tillis or Hagan, according to a Center for Public Integrity analysis of data provided by Kantar Media/CMAG, an ad tracking firm.

Interesting thing though, the ads weren’t really political — at least not according to the group that paid for them

“You’re the one who said we participated in the election,” Dallas Woodhouse, the group’s president and founder, told the Center for Public Integrity. “Those are issue ads. Those are not political ads.”

Woodhouse, a former North Carolina state leader of Americans for Prosperity, a nonprofit affiliated with billionaire brothers David and Charles Koch, maintains Carolina Rising  jumped in to defend Tillis after it became clear Hagan and the Democrats were going to attack him based on the policies passed by the state legislature.

The group, he added, was just carrying out its mission by boosting policies passed by the sitting speaker of the state House.

To the average viewer, Carolina Rising’s TV spots sure looked like political advertising. But under the law, they are really known as “electioneering communications.” That means they name a candidate and run inside a certain timeframe but don’t tell voters to vote for or against anyone.

And also under the law, Carolina Rising is not required to disclose who paid for the ads that influenced the election under the guise of “issue advertising.” And Woodhouse chooses not to.

Woodhouse won’t reveal the identity of the donors behind Carolina Rising.

Reports and speculation have linked the group to the billionaire Koch brothers, the high-profile conservative donors who are affiliated with his former employer, Americans for Prosperity.

And a Washington Post article said one contributor is North Carolina retail industry magnate Art Pope. To the reports, Woodhouse says, “They made that assumption. I don’t talk about donors either way. I will say the left likes to beat up on [Pope] and vastly overstate what he gives to certain causes.”

Woodhouse did say Carolina Rising is funded by multiple donors.

“And I’ll go as far as to say anybody who makes assumptions based on my previous associations are wrong,” he said. “Broadly speaking, we have a large, diverse donor body that we have brought into this mission of helping the Republicans tell their story in North Carolina. They are not the same old usual suspects.”

Asked if the donors are from North Carolina, Woodhouse answered, “Generally, that’s who I go after … I don’t want to be that specific.” He added: “Look, I don’t check people’s residency.

No, he just takes their money and walks through the loophole that allows anonymous donors to help determine who represents North Carolina in the Senate.

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