Neal camp objects to negative ad on donations

  • A screenshot of an ad that the group Justice Democrats has run against U.S. Rep. Richard Neal, D-Springfield. A lawyer for Neal, who is facing an electoral challenge from Holyoke Mayor Alex Morse, sent a letter to local television stations demanding that the ad be taken off the air. SCREENSHOT/JUSTICE DEMOCRATS

  • Holyoke Mayor Alex Morse, left, and U.S. Rep. Richard Neal, D-Springfield. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 8/27/2020 7:11:05 PM

SPRINGFIELD — A lawyer representing U.S. Rep. Richard Neal, D-Springfield, is demanding that local TV stations remove a political ad that mentions Neal’s status as the top recipient of corporate PAC money in the U.S. House.

Neal’s lawyer from the firm Perkins Coie sent the letter to WWLP-22 News and Western Mass News on Aug. 19. First reported by the investigative outlet TMI, the letter takes issue with a political ad that Justice Democrats PAC is airing in support of Holyoke Mayor Alex Morse, who is challenging Neal for the 1st Congressional District seat. The Gazette obtained the letter from WWLP’s Federal Communications Commission public inspection file.

Neal’s lawyer, Brian Svoboda, took issue with one line in the ad: “Last year, Neal took more money from corporations than any other member of Congress.” Svoboda notes that Neal has received those donations from corporate political action committees, or PACs, and not directly from the corporations themselves, which would be a violation of campaign finance law.

“We accordingly demand that your station remove this false and defamatory ad from its rotation,” Svoboda wrote. “Please contact us immediately to confirm that the advertisement will no longer air, so that we may consider this matter closed.”

Neal’s campaign declined to comment about the letter. Several employees at WWLP declined to comment on the matter. Efforts to reach Western Mass News’ station manager were unsuccessful.

In a separate letter, Justice Democrats responded to Neal’s claims. The group, which supports candidates running against Democratic incumbents from the left, noted that during the voiceover in question, a news headline appears on screen that reads: “Richard Neal is number one in corporate PAC donations.” Justice Democrats’ lawyer also notes that the ad later accuses Neal of being “first in corporate PACs, last in town halls.”

“From this, the Neal Campaign’s assertions are frivolous — it could not be clearer that the Advertisement is accusing Neal of accepting more funds from corporate political action committees than any other Member of Congress,” the Justice Democrats letter reads. “Justice Democrats in no way accused the Neal Campaign of violating campaign finance law by accepting contributions from general treasuries of corporations — it is simply highlighting a politically-sensitive (but legally permissible) practice.”

Neal has raised more money from corporate PACs than any other member of the U.S. House this cycle, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, which shows that the $1.97 million Neal has raised from business PACs accounts for 53% of his total fundraising.

With just under a week to go until primary election day in the 1st Congressional District, millions in outside money has been pouring into the district, with TV, radio and digital ads blanketing the region’s media.

Justice Democrats PAC just dropped $120,000 on ads supporting Morse, according to filings with the Federal Election Commission. That brings their total spending on the race to $570,000.

Much of Justice Democrats’ funding comes from individual donors, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. Among its biggest donors are Charles Dunlop, the founder and president of the company Ambry Genetics, Way to Win Action Fund, a group for donors looking to fund progressive campaigns, and Noah McCormack, the publisher of the magazine The Baffler.

Neal has also been the recent beneficiary of an outside super PAC spending big on ads.

FEC filings show the group American Working Families recently spent $501,675 on ads, most of them attacking Morse. The group has now spent $968,450 on the election thus far, FEC filings show.

American Working Families has received much of its funding from organized labor, though it has also taken $75,000 from the American Society of Anesthesiologists, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. The American Society of Anesthesiologists have opposed surprise medical billing legislation that Neal has also opposed.

Both candidates have benefited from more than $1 million in outside spending on the race.

Other pro-Neal groups spending on the race include the American Hospital Association, Democratic Majority for Israel and the National Association of Realtors. Pro-Morse groups spending on the race include Indivisible Action, Fight Corporate Monopolies and the Massachusetts Nurses Association.

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