The television commercials won’t begin airing until Friday, but the Democratic Party of Hawaii has already sought to blunt their impact.

The party warned this week that a group called American Action Network (AAN) has made a $300,000 television advertising buy to help Republican Charles Djou in his 1st Congressional District race against Democrat Mark Takai.

The party’s email blasts are loaded with hyperlinks to supporting documents, as is the modern practice.

“AAN, a group with ties to Karl Rove and part of a mainland Republican coalition, is currently spending $23 million to buy Congressional elections across the country,” according to one of two press release issued this week. “This PAC ranked second only to Karl Rove’s American Crossroads PAC on nonprofits pushing the IRS limits to influence elections.”

Rove is the political mastermind behind George W. Bush’s presidential campaigns and worked in his White House.

The Democratic Party, through its 2014 Democratic Coordinated Campaign, states, “AAN opposes raising the minimum wage, opposes Wall Street accountability while supporting more tax cuts for big corporations. AAN founder and chair supported privatizing Social Security.”

Mark Takai

Congressional candidate Mark Takai during a Civil Beat editorial board meeting Aug. 4.

Nick Grube/Civil Beat

Democrats are calling for Djou, a former congressman, state representative and Honolulu councilman, to “keep mainland special interest money out of our elections” and demand that AAN pull its ads.

Ironically, in one of its press releases, the party mentions Djou’s opposition to another mainland group spending money locally. VoteVets, a progressive-leaning PAC that helped Tulsi Gabbard get to Congress in 2012, has spent several nearly $300,000 this year to help Takai join Gabbard in Washington.

It’s not clear whether the AAN ad or ads will be positive endorsements of Djou, as is the case with the VoteVets spots for Takai. But the Democratic Party links to a news report that TV stations in Colorado and Connecticut pulled AAN spots in 2010 “because of egregiously false claims,” as the party put it.

“These mainland Republican funded ads do nothing but create more voter disgust with our political process.” — Mark Takai’s deputy campaign manager, Alex Herrington

Democrats also sent out a link to AAN’s YouTube channel that the party says demonstrates the group’s spots “have been predominantly negative attack ads on Democrats.”

Dan Conston, AAN’s communications director, told Civil Beat that it could not share its Hawaii spot because it “isn’t available yet,” even though it is expected to air Friday. (UPDATE: The video is now posted below. It attacks Takai’s record regarding taxes.)

But Conston did comment on the Democratic Party going on the offense and hinted that the ad will not be flattering to Takai, a state representative.

“Their preemptive attacks speak volumes about just how concerned they are with Mark Takai’s floundering campaign,” he said. “Our ad is Mark Takai in his own words talking about the need for higher taxes.”

Ties to Richard Nixon

The American Action Network is a 501(c)(4) “action tank,” according to its website, “that will create, encourage and promote center-right policies based on the principles of freedom, limited government, American exceptionalism, and strong national security. The American Action Network’s primary goal is to put our center-right ideas into action by engaging the hearts and minds of the American people and spurring them into active participation in our democracy.”

AAN’s chairman is Norm Coleman, a former GOP senator from Minnesota best known for having lost to Democrat Al Franken after a protracted recount of their 2008 election.

Some Democrats are raising alarm about AAN’s founder and board member, Fred Malek. Josh Wisch, the chairman of the Oahu County Democrats and an employee in the Abercrombie administration, tweeted this comment Tuesday:

AAN acknowledges that Malek worked for President Richard Nixon and also for presidents Gerald Ford, Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush, all Republicans. But Malek, 77, who has had a long and distinguished career in the military, hotels and airlines, worked for Nixon more than 40 years ago. Whether he should still be tied to that work is an open question.

As a Washington Post profile of Malek explained earlier this month, “The character thing took a hit when it became public years ago that while working in the Nixon White House, he had carried out an order from President Richard M. Nixon to count the number of Jewish employees at the Bureau of Labor Statistics.”

“I’ve acknowledged that mistake and apologized for it many times,” he said, according to the Post.

Charles Djou during a Civil Beat Editorial Board on October 7, 2014

Charles Djou discusses Hawaii’s high cost of living during an interview with Civil Beat on Oct. 7

PF Bentley/Civil Beat

A New Attack on Djou

What is curious is why the AAN cares so much about Hawaii’s 1st Congressional District, given that the U.S. House of Representatives is certain to be retained by the GOP, which might even pick up a couple of seats.

Democratic Party insiders say the reason is that a Djou victory would be embarrassing in President Barack Obama’s home state — especially if Democrat David Ige also loses to Republican Duke Aiona in the Hawaii governor’s race.

While polls say Ige has the edge in that contest, the Republican Governors Association and the Democratic Governors Association has been running lots of TV ads in the Hawaii market attacking the candidates. The RGA has lambasted Ige on taxes and health care while the DGA has focused on Aiona’s views on abortion.

In the meantime, Hawaii Democrats have released a YouTube clip that is far from flattering to Djou. The video highlights Djou’s 2010 vote “to shut down the  federal government, which would have cost Hawaii’s economy millions of dollars,” according to the party:

“It also highlights his vote against common sense protections for the American people after runaway Wall Street greed caused the most devastating recession of our generation.  The very next day, on July 1st, 2010, Djou voted to deny unemployment benefits for struggling families hit hardest by the same Wall Street greed he refused to address.”

The clip also says Djou is not a political centrist.

Djou laughed when asked about the “centrist” critique, pointing to a National Journal assessment of the 111th Congress — the one Djou served in — that he says ranked him as a centrist. He said the same issue came up during the 2012 rematch between Djou and Democrat Colleen Hanabusa, actually, and the word Djou used to describe himself was “moderate.”

Civil Beat did a Fact Check at the time and found that the National Journal did indeed deem Djou to be a moderate, and so we gave it a “True” rating. One might quibble about whether “moderate” and “centrist” are the same thing, of course, but an argument can be made that they are similar.

As for the YouTube video, Djou said it was a “total mischaracterization of my record.” In particular, he noted that it singled out one of his votes in Congress, on a House bill that the Democrats argue was a vote to “cut Medicaid assistance” and “cut education funding to Hawaii.”

Rejecting ‘Dark Money’

Djou says the bill would have paid for increased funding for schools and seniors, but would have done so by cutting food stamps and the Earned Income Tax Credit.

“I’m all for helping seniors, but not at the expense of out most vulnerable populations,” he said, pointing to a Washington Post editorial at the time that said the Senate companion bill was “motivated by politics.”

As for Democrats’ request that Djou demand the AAN pull its ad — an ad, Djou pointed out, that had not actually been seen by anyone — he instead challenged Democrats to pressure Takai to sign Common Cause Hawaii’s candidate pledge to donate to charity half the money spent by third-party groups on their campaigns. Djou is ready to sign the pledge while Takai has not indicated his intentions.

“My position has not changed,” Djou said. “These outside third-party ads funded by dark money are unhealthy for our democracy. I don’t care who or where they come from.”

As Democrats spread the word about the AAN ad, the Takai campaign seemed to suggest that it would attempt to counter it. On Thursday morning, deputy campaign manager Alex Hetherington sent out an email blast with the subject matter stating, “Fundraising surge for Mark Takai counters national GOP ad campaign Takai raises over $200k in 15 days.”

Asked to comment on the his email and the AAN ad buy, Hetherington emailed Civil Beat a statement Thursday afternoon: “These mainland Republican funded ads do nothing but create more voter disgust with our political process. We are focused on the issues that are important to Hawaii’s families such as college affordability, equal pay for equal work, and protecting our kupuna’s retirement benefits. We are working hard to get Mark Takai’s message of fighting for the strong democratic values of our state out to the voters.”

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