NASHVILLE — A GOP super PAC aligned with Republican U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is attacking Democratic Senate candidate and former Tennessee governor Phil Bredesen over tax or fee increases while he was in office.
The Senate Leadership Fund said Tuesday it is spending $1.1 million through Monday on TV, radio and digital ads for the 30-second spot, titled "Out of Touch." It also hits Bredesen on property tax increases that occurred while he was Nashville mayor.
The ad's female narrator says that "for over 30 years, multi-millionaire politician Phil Bredesen has supported higher taxes. As Nashville mayor, Bredesen pushed massive property tax hikes. As governor, Bredesen raised tax and fees nearly a billion dollars."
"Now," the ad charges, "Bredesen is attacking President Donald Trump's tax cuts as morally wrong. Morally wrong? Trump's tax cuts are saving middle-class families $2,000. Phil Bredesen is out of touch."
Bredesen's campaign charged in a new release that the ad is part of an "illegal" series of attacks "coordinated" by his Republican rival Marsha Blackburn with "the billionaire Koch brothers' Americans For Prosperity" and "McConnell's Senate Leadership Fund."
Americans for Prosperity is spending $2 million to attack Bredesen on taxes and spending.
Bredesen, meanwhile, released his own new ad, which shows him discussing the nation's debt during an informal lunch with a group of voters the nation's debt.
In it, he says it is "concerning to me, the debt that we're going to be leaving to our children ... It is skyrocketing ... It's taken both sides to get us into this debt."
He goes on to call the debt "a moral issue. And as governor, I had to balance the budget eight years. My first year, I had to cut everything nine percent. We didn't make it a Democratic or Republican issue. We just made it a Tennessee issue. I think that's what the Congress needs to do, is just get back to basics."
Bredesen also today released his own proposal to address debt. He's calling for freezing all federal spending outside of Social Security until tax collections catch up with the $3.3 trillion U.S. budget.
Blackburn announced her own "pathway" on spending, which includes passing a balanced budget amendment to the U.S. Constitution. She said she supports "across the board spending reductions" with exceptions on defense spending couple with "additional tax reform."
The Senate Leadership Fund's attack comes with a recent NBC News poll showing a nip-and-tuck contest between Bredesen and Blackburn in the Nov. 6 election where early voting begins Oct. 17.
Bredesen led Blackburn by two percentage points among likely voters.
In its ad, the Senate Leadership Fund cites a December 2010 article in the Times Free Press on Bredesen's tenure as governor (2003-2011) for the attacks on his record on taxes.
The article was based on legislative researchers' annual analyses of state budget actions, many of them taken during the Great Recession and often at Bredesen's request. They were approved by majorities in the General Assembly, including a number of Republicans.
Among them was a cigarette tax increase Bredesen pushed for K-12 education. Others included closing off corporate tax loopholes as well as a temporary boost in state unemployment taxes on businesses to prevent the state's unemployment fund from going broke during the recession.
It was only in January 2018 that the unemployment fund recovered sufficiently for the tax to revert to its pre-recession tax rate on employers.
The Times Free Press article also cited an "assessment fee" pushed by the hospital industry to stave off Bredesen's proposed cuts to the state's TennCare program. It was a one-year deal but has been renewed by majority Republicans here ever since, again at the hospital industry's request.
The ad itself doesn't cite a source for its claim about Bredesen as Nashville mayor raising the city's property tax. In an email, Senate Leadership Fund spokesman Chris Pack provided links to Associated Press and Nashville Scene articles as well as videos of Bredesen talking about them on C-SPAN.
As for the claim that Bredesen called the Republican tax cuts "morally wrong," Pack pointed to an April New York Times interview which Bredesen said "I think they did something which was clever politically, but I couldn't have swallowed morally, which is I think they threw a few crumbs to the middle class to give these huge breaks to wealthier people and corporations and so on."
Peck called the TV ad's claim a "perfectly fair summation" of what Bredesen's view.
In their news release, Bredesen campaign officials charge that "Blackburn, AFP, and SLF are being investigated by the Federal Election Commission (FEC) for campaign finance violations relative to illegal coordination of resources and efforts."
That, the campaign says, stems from comments "made by Blackburn's campaign strategist Ward Baker, who in July bragged of consulting with the Koch brothers and SLF — and promised that AFP, SLF, and other outside groups would get involved in Tennessee's U.S. Senate race."
In July, Baker, who oversaw the National Republican Senatorial Committee's 2018 efforts on behalf of Majority Leader McConnell and other Republicans, was asked during a presentation to Nashville-area conservatives about Republican independent groups getting into the Tennessee race.
A secret recording of Baker's remarks show him predicting the groups would, likening it to labor unions working on Democrats' behalf.
"At the end of the day, we try to figure out what we have to do to win this race on our own, and if anyone else comes in, that's great," Baker says on the recording. "But, will AFP be involved? Yes."
Citing Baker's remarks, a liberal group, Tennessee Citizen Action, in August filed a complaint with the Federal Election Commission and called on the watchdog agency to investigate "possible coordination between the Blackburn for Senate campaign and at least three outside groups."
In addition to the Senate Leadership Fund and Americans for Prosperity, the complaint also lists Club for Growth, another GOP-aligned independent expenditure group.
Contact Andy Sher at firstname.lastname@example.org or 615-255-0550. Follow on Twitter @AndySher1.