Mar 8, 2016 7:39 PM

First on NH1 News: New third party ad renews outside money fight in NH's Senate battle

NH1 News Political Director

CONCORD – Word of a new television commercial by the leading super PAC supporting Democratic Senate candidates is sparking a new skirmish in the war over outside money between Republican Sen. Kelly Ayotte and Gov. Maggie Hassan, her Democratic challenger.

NH1 News was first to report Tuesday on Twitter that Senate Majority PAC will start running a new ad on New Hampshire airwaves starting Wednesday. While Senate Majority PAC (which has close ties to Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid) has yet to unveil its spot, it’s likely it will target Ayotte.

According to ad buying sources in the Granite State, the commercial will run through March 15. It’s the third TV commercial Senate Majority PAC has run against Ayotte, but the first since last September.

Watch/Read: Ayotte faces primary challenge

Last month the super PAC went up with spots criticizing Republican senators over their refusal to consider any nomination by President Barack Obama to fill the Supreme Court vacancy. The spots targeted most of the Republican senators facing challenging re-elections this year. Noticeably absent was Ayotte. The Senate Majority PAC ads went up just days after the Ayotte first challenged Hassan to sign the Peoples Pledge.

The pledge is based on the 2012 agreement between then Sen. Scott Brown of Massachusetts and his Democratic challenger, Elizabeth Warren. It would require either candidate that benefits from third-party spending (from Super PACs, 501c4 groups, and other outside organizations) to folk over 50% of the cost of that ad buy to a charity of the opponent’s choosing.

So far this cycle, more than $2 million’s been dished out by outside groups to run ads in New Hampshire’s blockbuster Senate battle, which is shaping up to be one of the most expensive and negative campaigns in the race to control the chamber.

Hassan’s campaign responded to Ayotte’s offer a day later with what they called a “Strengthened New Hampshire Peoples Pledge” which would limit each campaign to a $15 million spending cap.

“What I did in response to her initial offer was to strengthen the pledge that she suggested,” Hassan recently told NH1 News. “I strengthened the Peoples Pledge with a spending cap because it's not just outside money, it's too much money coming into our politics and really getting in the way of the candidates and the people of New Hampshire."

Hassan also touted her efforts on the issue of keeping outside money out of campaigns, saying “I have long stood for campaign finance reform. Right after Citizens United was decided in 2010, I brought forward legislation in the state Senate to try to force disclosure on this dark outside money that’s come into our state and is really polluting our campaigns and politics here.”

Hassan then criticized Ayotte, saying “I continue to believe strongly that Citizens United is wrong for our country and as a United States senator I would vote to overturn it, something that Sen. Ayotte has said she won’t do. She supports Citizens United. She supports the notion that these outside groups can come to state and flood the state with money.”

In an NH1 News interview, Ayotte took aim at the governor, saying “unfortunately Gov. Hassan clearly doesn’t want to keep third party special interests spending out of this race.”

“I think the Peoples Pledge, something that came into effect in the Massachusetts Senate race in 2012 was also offered by Sen. Shaheen when she ran for re-election. We know it works in reducing third party spending and unfortunately she’s interjected issues that don’t have anything to do with third party spending so clearly I think that’s politician speak for ‘I don’t want to keep this money out and I don’t want to sign this pledge’ unfortunately,” Ayotte added.

Soon after reporting of the new Senate Majority PAC ad, Ayotte’s campaign criticized Hassan.

"New Hampshire voters can officially say goodbye to any hope that Governor Maggie Hassan will change her mind and sign the People's Pledge that was good enough for Jeanne Shaheen and Elizabeth Warren," Ayotte campaign manager Jon Kohan said in a statement. "Harry Reid and Washington Democrats begged Maggie Hassan to run for Senate, and it’s now clearer than ever that she has no interest in keeping third party special interest money out of this race."

Hassan’s campaign was quick to reply.

“It comes as no surprise that Senator Ayotte has refused to sign the strengthened pledge or even to negotiate with Governor Hassan, given Ayotte's staunch opposition to meaningful campaign finance reform,” said Hassan campaign press secretary Meira Bernstein.

“Ayotte has already benefitted from almost $6 million in outside spending in just over a year from special interests such as the Koch Brothers, including ads launched by a Koch-linked special interest group in the last month. Not to mention that she supports the backward Citizens United decision that helped unleash dark money in our political system. Ayotte's real Washington record proves she simply can't be taken seriously on reining in special interests,” she added.

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