A trio of conservative groups tries to torpedo two top Biden nominees

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A trio of conservative organizations are launching a multi-million dollar advertising blitz aimed at undermining two of President Joe Biden’s high-profile nominees.

The ad buy, first reported by POLITICO, will air across cable news networks in Washington, D.C. and digital platforms starting Thursday.

The campaign is being led by the advocacy groups Judicial Crisis Network, Heritage Action for America, and Americans for Public Trust. And it’s being modeled after the effort the groups spearheaded to galvanize support for Trump’s three Supreme Court Justice nominees in the weeks leading up to their respective confirmation hearings.

This time, however, the trio is going negative, hoping to torpedo the confirmations of Vanita Gupta, Biden’s nominee for associate attorney general, and Xavier Becerra, the Democratic attorney general of California and nominee for secretary of Health and Human Services.

The groups are also putting out a third ad highlighting what they deem to be the role “dark money” played in electing Biden as well as shaping his Cabinet and policies.

“Liberals spent a record amount of dark money to elect Biden,” one ad says. “Now they are cashing in,” it continues, pointing to Biden chief of staff Ron Klain’s previous role on the board of directors of the Democratic think tank, the Center for American Progress Action Fund. The ad also claims that Biden has not ordered schools to re-open amid the Covid crisis because of pressure from the teachers unions, which the groups describe as a fellow “dark money” interest.

Two other ads attack Becerra and Gupta’s progressive policies. One $800,000 ad paid for by the Judicial Crisis Network titled “Dangerous Appointee” shows images of violence this summer in cities across America and states where murder rates are on the rise. “Biden appoints Vanita Gupta for a top job in the Justice Department,” the ad says. “She supports defunding the police, led a group that wants to reduce punishments on white supremacists, even terrorists. When our cities burned Gupta could’ve stood for law and order, for victims. Instead she advocated to let convicts out of jail.”

The article that the ad cites to support the accusation that Gupta favors defunding the police does not actually say that she favors defunding the police.

Another ad from Heritage Action for America says Becerra “supports government run healthcare,” “sued Catholic nuns” as California attorney general, and would “decriminalize illegal immigration.” The ad says Becerra “is not a doctor” — former HHS Secretary Alex Azar was not a physician, either — and is the “wrong appointee” in the middle of a pandemic.

“Mr. Biden promised unity, but his nominees to high positions and his policy prescriptions reveal an extreme liberal agenda, on which these dark money groups are trying to cash in,” said Caitlin Sutherland, executive director of Americans for Public Trust.

In addition to ad buys, the groups have planned a supplemental campaign of texts, email, calls, and member activism. Other conservative groups supporting the campaign include Catholic Vote, which is contacting 350,000 of its activists to urge them to call their senators; Susan B. Anthony List; and the Competitive Enterprise Institute. CatholicVote and Susan B. Anthony List are especially focused on Becerra and Gupta’s anti-abortion records.

“This is a highly coordinated effort to bring awareness to Biden’s pay-to-play approach to the liberal dark money groups who spent money to elect him and Senate Democrats, and to oppose two of Biden’s extremist nominees who will carry the agendas of those dark money groups to their administration posts if confirmed,” said a Republican strategist involved with the coalition.

A “dark money” organization is a political nonprofit that is not required to disclose their donors. Judicial Crisis Network and Heritage Action for America are, in fact, dark money groups themselves. As 501(c)(4) groups they do not have to reveal their funders. According to Bloomberg, dark money groups spent $145 million to elect Biden in 2020, far more than the $28.4 million spent for Trump.

The attacks from conservative groups are notable not only for the messaging they advance but for the timing as well. Biden has lagged in Senate confirmations for his nominees. But four weeks in, there have been relatively scant pushback from conservatives. The campaign seeks to change that, but a mid-February launch may be too late.

The White House did not return a request for comment.

Prior to her nomination, Gupta led the Justice Department’s civil rights division during the Obama administration and is currently the president of the leadership conference on civil and human rights. She started her career with the NAACP legal defense fund and, if confirmed, would be the first woman of color to serve as associate attorney general.

“At every step, with every case, she fought for greater equity and the right to right the wrongs of a justice system where they existed,” Biden said when he announced Gupta’s nomination.

As attorney general of California, Becerra was a thorn in the Trump administration’s side, filing dozens of lawsuits on healthcare, the environment, and immigration. Becerra led a group of state attorneys general last year to defend abortion rights and challenge a Mississippi law that prohibits abortions past 15 weeks. He is a proponent of the Affordable Care Act, and would be first Latino leader of HHS if confirmed.

Although Republicans have been critical of Becerra’s nomination, the Biden team is projecting confidence that both Becerra and Gupta will clear the Senate.

Becerra’s nomination hearings will start on Feb. 23 before the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor & Pensions. Gupta’s hearing with the Judiciary Committee remains unscheduled.

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