Senator Gary Peters (D., Mich.), already facing a tough reelection campaign against Republican John James, came under further fire Tuesday after publicly condemning the malign influence of “dark money” in politics despite benefiting from a $1.4 million ad campaign by VoteVets Action Fund.
“Today marks a decade of Citizens United. That’s 10 years of dark money. 10 years of special interests literally buying elections. 10 years of a ‘for sale’ sign on our democracy. Add your name to say you’re in the fight to #EndCitizensUnited,” Peters tweeted Tuesday.
Today marks a decade of Citizens United.
That’s 10 years of dark money. 10 years of special interests literally buying elections. 10 years of a “for sale” sign on our democracy.
— Gary Peters (@GaryPeters) January 21, 2020
But the Michigan Democrat failed to mention the support his campaign has received from VoteVets, which was described as a “liberal ‘dark money’ nonprofit” by the non-partisan Center for Public Integrity. VoteVets ran a $750,000 ad buy in November to counter a similar GOP effort, and has only increased its support for Peters since then.
Under Citizens United, federal law allows for independent organizations to spend unlimited amounts to promote political candidates but advertisements are considered a campaign contribution — and are as a result subject to limitations — if the organization and the benefiting campaign work in coordination on the effort.
“Gary Peters is a hypocrite by blasting ‘dark money’ on social media while those same groups run millions of dollars in TV ads for his re-election benefit,” Tori Sachs, executive director of Better Future Michigan, told National Review in a statement.
While campaigns are not allowed to officially coordinate with Super PACS, the Peters’s campaign website employs the common tactic of making generic photos and b-roll footage publicly available so that outside groups can use them to produce favorable ads. In a November ad touting Peters’s support for veterans, VoteVets uses pictures and footage found on the official campaign website. It did the same for a December ad titled “Raise.”
In December, conservative watchdog Foundation for Accountability and Civic Trust (FACT) filed a complaint with the FEC over the campaign’s posting of stock photos and b-roll video.
“The purpose and effect of these webpages is clear: to give explicit instructions to outside organizations on the content and audiences for advertisements supporting their campaigns,” FACT stated in the complaint.
The Peters campaign did not respond to a request for comment.
James’s campaign announced earlier this month that it had out-raised Peters for the fourth quarter by $1 million. A December poll also showed James climbing to a narrow lead after Peters said “I believe we can” transition the U.S. economy to zero-net emissions by 2050, despite Michigan’s large auto-industry influence.