A secretive, conservative nonprofit tied to billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch has commenced a media attack against Rep. Collin Peterson, the 12-term Minnesota Democrat already marked by national Republicans for defeat in 2014.
But Peterson, perhaps one of the nation’s more vulnerable Democratic congressmen, told the Center for Public Integrity that the ads’ stinging indictment of his dedication to constituents is “ridiculous.”
“I don’t know who these guys are or what they’re up to,” the 7th District congressman said. “If I’d only been in office a couple terms, it might have a bigger impact, but people know me.”
And as for the new ads’ effect on whether he will run for re-election, something on which he plans to decide next year?
“What they are doing is making me more inclined to not hang up my hat,” Peterson said.
“Right now we’re trying to get the farm bill done. That’s what I’m focused on,” he continued. “Once that’s over with, then I’ll figure out what I’m going to do.”
The ranking Democratic member of the House Agriculture Committee, Peterson represents a Republican-leaning portion of western Minnesota.
In 2012, he was one of only nine House Democrats who prevailed on Election Day in districts carried by GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney. Peterson defeated his Republican opponent by about 25 percentage points.
The new ads from the Iowa-based American Future Fund accuse Peterson of losing his “Minnesota nice” and being unresponsive — although the spot itself cites no specific issues on which Peterson has failed to provide answers. The group has so far spent about $81,000 on the attack.
So far this year, Peterson’s campaign has posted lower fundraising totals, compared with previous cycles, leading some to wonder if he may be on his way out the door.
He had raised less than $364,000 as of Sept. 30, according to his most recent filing with the Federal Election Commission. And at that time, he had just $227,000 cash on hand.
During his 2012 re-election fight, his campaign spent nearly $1.5 million.
Earlier this month, Republican state Sen. Torrey Westrom launched a campaign to challenge Peterson, and businessman Scott Van Binsbergen is also considering getting in the race.
For its part, the American Future Fund ranks as one of the most active nonprofits in the electoral arena, and it has long earned the ire of liberals and campaign finance reform groups.
Earlier this year, the American Future Fund was entangled in a case that officials at California’s Fair Political Practices Commission said highlighted the “the nationwide scourge of dark money nonprofit networks hiding the identities of their contributors.”
According to the commission, a Virginia-based nonprofit called Americans for Jobs Security was used as a conduit for more than $15 million that was steered through other nonprofits to keep donors’ identities secret and then used to advocate against two ballot measures in the state.
That included more than $4 million that passed from Americans for Job Security through the American Future Fund to a now-defunct nonprofit called the California Future Fund for Free Markets, which supported an anti-union ballot initiative.
Organized under Sec. 501(c)(4) of the U.S. tax code, the American Future Fund is not required to publicly identify its donors. Public records and media reports have, however, illuminated some of its ties.
According to the New York Times, the American Future Fund was founded in 2007 with “seed money” from Iowa businessman Bruce Rastetter, who has been active in the ethanol and meat production industries.
“I don’t get it,” Peterson said. “Nobody’s been a better friend of agriculture and ethanol than I have.”
Last year, when the American Future Fund raised a staggering $68 million, two Koch-connected nonprofits accounted for more than 92 percent of its funding, according to a Center for Responsive Politics analysis of filings with the Internal Revenue Service.
The American Future Fund has also received cash infusions from the American Justice Partnership — a Michigan-based group that is often at odds with trial lawyers — as well as several Republican leadership PACs.
Officials with the American Future Fund did not respond to requests for comment.
Peterson himself noted that the political action committee of Koch Industries “regularly” contributes to his campaign.
In fact, the Koch Industries PAC has given Peterson $43,500 since the 2006 election cycle, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, including $2,000 in August.