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Secretive National Business-Backed Organization Funds Attack Ads in Alabama Supreme Court Race

June 2, 2006

Secretive National Business-Backed Organization Funds Attack Ads in AlabamaSupreme Court Race

Stealth Organization Has Launched Costly Television Ad Campaign Against Judicial Challenger

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The American Taxpayers Alliance (ATA), a national organization with close ties to big business, this week began dumping thousands of dollars into the race for chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court. The ATA ran television ads critical of Justice Tom Parker while simultaneously funding spots supporting incumbent conservative Chief Justice Drayton Nabers.

The electioneering ads aren’t a first for the ATA, which has been notorious for involving itself in state elections without reporting its contributions or contributors to the Federal Election Commission (FEC) or state disclosure commissions. Neither the FEC nor the secretary of state of Alabama has any disclosure records pertaining to the ATA. In 2004, the group spent nearly $700,000 on judicial election ads in Alabama, according to the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law.

The Washington, D.C.-based ATA is registered as a 501(c)(4) organization. Its stated purpose is to “protect American taxpayers from new and onerous financial obligations” and to “harness taxpayer anger at unwise fiscal decisions by government leaders,” according to the organization’s 2004 IRS Form 990. This stealth group appears to have no Web site and spend the bulk of its resources on political campaign advertising around the country.

“The ATA is engaging in a cynical manipulation of the democratic process,” said Public Citizen President Joan Claybrook. “This national organization, which historically has been heavily backed by large corporations, is trying to stack the deck of the Alabama Supreme Court to further its anti-consumer agenda.”

The ATA is headed by Republican operative Scott Reed. Reed began his career in conservative politics at Pat Robertson’s Christian Coalition and was the campaign manager for Bob Dole’s 1996 presidential bid. He was appointed executive director of the Republican National Committee in 1993.

In 2001, the ATA was one of the primary stealth organizations involved in attacking California Gov. Gray Davis over the California energy crisis, turning $1.8 million in contributions from Texas-based Reliant Energy Corp. and North Carolina-based Duke Energy into powerfully negative campaign ads, according to Newsweek magazine.

According to the Alabama secretary of state’s office, any organization that is running election ads in Alabama must register with the state or the FEC. The ATA has done neither.

Despite the organization’s history of involvement in political campaigns and concealment of its financial supporters, in 2002, the ATA included a list of contributors on the IRS Form 990 that the group provided to Public Citizen. The form revealed that the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, a national industry association with a history of interfering in state judicial elections, gave the group $2.5 million that year, representing 38 percent of the ATA’s 2002 budget. That year, the ATA ran electioneering ads in Illinois, Missouri and Florida.

Last year, the Campaign Disclosure Project ranked Alabama 47th in the country in terms of campaign disclosure laws.

“State lawmakers should strengthen Alabama’s disclosure laws, which are among the weakest in the country,” said Claybrook. “The ATA has a history of getting money from big energy companies and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. The citizens of Alabama should question why those interests are trying to determine the outcome of this election.”