This report was written by Walker Bragman, Julia Rock and Andrew Perez.
Facing a spirited progressive primary challenge, U.S. Rep. Richard Neal, D-Mass. is pressuring a local television station to pull down an ad criticizing his reliance on corporate PAC money, according to a letter obtained by TMI from Neal’s attorney. Neal’s attempt to block Democratic primary voters from seeing the ads about his campaign financing comes at the very moment his reelection bid is being bankrolled by donors from industries with business before his congressional committee.
Justice Democrats’ super PAC, the group behind the ad, spent at least $150,000 to have the 30-second television spot run through the entire Democratic National Convention. The ad alleges that Neal “took more money from corporations than any other member of Congress” and says he “hasn’t held a town hall in years.” The group says the station has not pulled down the ad.
The cease and desist letter from an attorney representing Neal’s campaign insists that there is a material distinction between donations from corporations and donations from corporations’ political action committees and that by not making that distinction clear, the implication was that Neal had committed a crime.
“You have full power to reject the ad for any reason,” wrote Neal’s attorney Brian Svoboda of the Democratic powerhouse law firm Perkins Coie to WWLP-22News, a local NBC affiliate. “To attack Representative Neal’s reputation in his community, the ad purposely confuses the illegal corporate contributions of which it falsely accuses him, with the entirely legal contributions he actually received from PACs — i.e., entities which receive voluntary, personal contributions from corporate and union employees, shareholders and their families, and make lawful contributions from those funds.”
Neal’s counsel called the commercial “defamatory” and implied that the station could face legal consequences: “Because you need not run this ad, you enjoy no immunity from liability for its false claims, and are fully responsible for the defamation and any other torts that might result from their dissemination.”
Although corporate PACs do not draw funds directly from corporate treasuries, they are typically managed and directed by company executives. The groups are even required to include the corporation’s formal corporate name in their name.
In February, Sludge reported that Neal had been the largest congressional recipient of money from corporate and business-affiliated political action committees (PACs) in 2019. Neal has received nearly $2 million from these PACs this cycle, and it accounts for more than 53 percent of his total fundraising, according to OpenSecrets. On Tuesday alone, Neal received donations from a slew of corporate PACs including $2000 from Allstate’s PAC, $2,500 from Microsoft’s PAC, and $2,500 from WalMart’s PAC, according to federal records reviewed by TMI.
In a reply to the Neal campaign letter, Justice Democrats’ attorney wrote that Sbovoda’s argument is “not valid from a legal perspective.”
The letter notes that during the voiceover accusing Neal of taking corporate money, the Sludge headline, “Richard Neal is Number One in Corporate PAC Donations,” was featured on screen. Additionally, the ad concludes with the statement, “First in corporate PACs. Last in town halls,” making the meaning even more clear.
“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,” said the Justice Democrats’ response letter.
As chairman of the influential House Ways and Means Committee, Neal has become a target for progressives and progressive groups like Justice Democrats. On Tuesday, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s PAC, Courage to Change, endorsed his progressive primary opponent, mayor of Holyoke Alex Morse.
Neal recently defended his acceptance of corporate PAC money by pointing out that he gives money to elect diverse Democrats.
“I will not apologize for the idea that I raised $13 million for Democratic candidates,” Neal said at a debate earlier this month. “I contributed to every single member of the Black Caucus, every single member of the Hispanic Caucus, every member of the Equality Caucus, and I have recruited candidates for Speaker [Nancy] Pelosi, helped them with message discipline, and helped to fund their campaigns.”
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