BOISE -- New political ads running right now in support of Idaho Congressman Mike Simpson are causing a bit of confusion, according to the politician. He says some constituents incorrectly believe the television advertisement is for his campaign, or at least paid for by the campaign.
Simpson didn't know ads were running
The ad is by the American Chemistry Council, a trade association that has interests in manufacturing, high-tech jobs and the environment. The ad is an example of ads Simpson says you'll likely see more of: Ads paid for by groups that perhaps have no direct contact or even approval from the politician or candidate.
The ad focuses on the economy and job creation, touting Simpson's views with statements like this: "Mike Simpson. In today's economy, jobs are his top priority."
While it may feel like a campaign ad, Simpson says it's not. In fact, he has nothing to do with it. In fact, with election finance rules, he can't even talk to the ACC.
"In fact, the first time I heard about it, one of my staff saw it out in Idaho, and I was back in Washington," Simpson said. "And they called and said, 'Who's running these ads?'. And I said, 'I don't know. What ads are you talking about?'"
Simpson ad is a cookie cutter concept
The Simpson ads are one of two versions the American Chemistry Council is running for at least nine different senators and representatives. The ads are cookie cutter, using the same phrases, music and video.
Simpson's ad is nearly identical to ads for Representative Dave Camp (R-MI), Representative Tim Murphy (R-PA), and Representative Ed Whitfield (R-KY). The other ACC ad runs for Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), Senator John Barrasso (R-WY), Senator Mike Johanns (R-NE), Representative John Shimkus (R-IL) and Representative Cedric Rickmond (D-LA).
Some of those politicians, like Simpson, are up for re-election this year, but others, like Alaska's Senator Lisa Murkowski, have years left. The common thread appears to Simpson to be energy and environment issues. For example, he's chairman of the appropriations subcommittee that funds the EPA.
"I hope it's because they support my positions on the issues that are of interest to the Chemistry Council," Simpson said. "That's an organization of companies and stuff that deal with things like fertilizers and that type of stuff. I suspect that they appreciate my position on those issues."
'An awful lot' of people confused
The ad doesn't ask for a vote, just a phone call. The end of the ad states: "Call today and tell Mike Simpson 'Keep fighting for jobs and Idaho's future.'"
Instead of getting a lot of calls of support, Simpson says he's getting more calls of confusion.
"We haven't had a lot of phone calls coming in saying 'thank you'," Simpson said. "What we've done is there's been an awful lot of people that have said to us, 'Hey, I saw your ads on TV the other day, and that's a good ad', and that type of thing. And then we've had to explain to them, it's not our ads. We're not running them. In fact, I've had some people call up that were upset we were running this ad, and we've had to explain, 'We're not running it.'"
Super PAC decision may mean more like this
While perhaps confusing, expect more of these ads for Congressional candidates. Simpson says that's because of the 2010 Supreme Court decision allowing Super Political Action Committees, or Super PACs (the ACC is not a super PAC), to raise and spend unlimited money to support candidates.
"You're probably going to see more independent expenditures run on behalf of candidates and opposing other candidates, that the actual individual running doesn't have really anything to say about, because, as I said, we can't have any coordination with them," Simpson said. "I didn't even know these were going to run. And I think you're probably going to see more of that in future. You're seeing an awful lot of it in the presidential election now."
Simpson agrees with this ad, but that's not always the case
"When I first ran for Congress there were some ads run that we had nothing to do with, that frankly, I disagreed with the ad," Simpson said. "It was an ad opposing my opponent. You know, it was a negative ad. I was opposed to that and actually called them up and told them to stop running it because I didn't think it was a good ad and dealt with issues that I didn't really want to bring up in the campaign, that I didn't think were relevant."
Simpson says while he can't talk to the American Chemistry Council, even to thank them, he does agree with what these particular broadcast ads said.
"I think it's pretty accurate," he said. "I mean, that's what we're trying to do here in Washington is create jobs, not only in Idaho, but throughout the country and that's what we're working on very hard. And the best way to do that is to get our economy moving again. And the best way to get our economy moving again is to get our debt and deficit under control, so I agree with what the ad is saying."
ACC: Not targeting specific legislation
The American Chemistry Council did not return requests for information about why they are running the ads for Simpson. The trade association did tell the Anchorage, Alaska NBC affiliate it is not targeting any specific legislation with the ad for that state's senator.
The Council issued KTUU this statement: "Policies that support economic growth, energy security and job creation are critical to America's chemistry industry. We believe it's important for members of Congress, like Senator Murkowski, who are champions for these priorities, to hear from their constituents who share these beliefs."
American Chemistry Council contributions to campaign
The American Chemistry Council political action committee (PAC) regularly donates to candidates of both parties. Last year, the association and several of its member companies donated nearly $20,000 to Simpson's campaign, according to Federal Election Commission records.
According to Federal Election Commission campaign disclosure reports, the American Chemistry Council PAC contributed $5,000 to Simpson's campaign in 2011.
Other members of the American Chemistry Council (as listed on the trade association's website) are also listed as contributors in FEC Reports:
Ashland Incorporated: $1,000
Bayer Corporation: $2,000
ExxonMobil Chemical Company: $3,000
FMC Corporation: $5,000
Marathon Petroleum LP: $1,000
Watch the ads for yourself
Click here to see the American Chemistry Council ad for Congressman Mike Simpson.
Click here to see the American Chemistry Council ad for Congressman Tim Murphy (R-PA) to see how similar the television spots are.