If former Sen. Chuck Hagel is confirmed as defense secretary Thursday, it will be despite a secretive well-funded campaign aimed at some of the Senate's most vulnerable members.
At least five conservative and pro-Israel political groups have joined forces opposing Hagel in television commercials, newspaper ads, and online. Some of the most vocal of these groups are also the most secretive.
American Future Fund, for example, is a conservative nonprofit that has launched a "Hagel No" advertising campaign criticizing Hagel and supporters such as Democratic Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York. Who is paying for the extensive campaign, or how much it costs, is not known.
As a 501(c)4 nonprofit, American Future Fund does not have to disclose its donors, who presumably financed the group's $25 million anti-Obama campaign last year, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. AFF aired more than $40,000 worth of ads in Washington, D.C., in the last week on political shows such as Meet the Press and Fox News Sunday.
One of the commercials focuses on Hagel's perceived weakness on the issue of Israel, as does most of the anti-Hagel sentiment. The first claims Schumer endorsed Hagel for his own political ambitions "after a career supporting Israel." The ad implies Hagel's proposed negotiating with Iran after its president "threatened to wipe Israel off the map."
That issue explains the creation of another secretive anti-Hagel group, Americans for a Strong Defense, which keeps an even lower profile than AFF. Formed earlier this month, the group's entire purpose is opposing Hagel, specifically for his views on Israel and Iran. The group has run an ad saying Hagel "wants America to back down" and "eliminate our nuclear weapons program" after beginning with ominous news clips portraying "a dangerous world."
Like AFF, Americans for a Strong Defense's finances are in the dark beyond what can be found in local television station records. The records show the group has spent more than $30,000 on television ad buys in Raleigh, N.C., and more than $70,000 in Denver. The ads target Democratic Sens. Kay Hagan and Mark Udall, members of the Armed Services Committee, which will hold Hagel's confirmation hearings, who are considered vulnerable in the 2014 elections.
There are still more groups working in the shadows, such as the Emergency Committee for Israel, another political nonprofit which spent millions during the 2012 election but doesn't disclose donors. ECI took out a full-page ad in the New York Times, ran a television commercial in the Washington, D.C., area, and purchased ChuckHagel.com, all opposing Hagel's nomination.
There are also groups criticizing Hagel not for his views on foreign policy, but gay rights. Use Your Mandate, a gay and lesbian advocacy group, is perhaps the most secretive of the anti-Hagel coalition. The group, which has no website and does not disclose its donors, has waged its anti-Hagel campaign across a variety of mediums. Interestingly, the group's attacks have been mostly from the left: its TV ad criticizes Hagel as "anti-woman, anti-choice, anti-Israel, anti-gay, and pro-assault weapon." In addition to the TV ad, which ran on Meet the Press at a cost of $25,000, Use Your Mandate has sent 350,000 anti-Hagel mailers and taken out an anti-Hagel banner ad on Politico.com, according to The Huffington Post.
Hagel, who voted against many gay rights bills while in the Senate, has also faced criticism from the Log Cabin Republicans. The conservative gay rights group took out its own ad in the New York Times that called Hagel "wrong on gay rights, wrong on Iran, wrong on Israel." It also put an ad in the Washington Post that said Hagel's apology for his former position on gay rights was "too little, too late."
While it is not known whether casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, who pumped $150 million into the 2012 election, is funding any of the latest groups, the New York Times reported Adelson, a strong pro-Israel advocate, has been calling Republicans to urge them to oppose Hagel. A representative for Adelson did not respond to a request from U.S. News for comment.
Thus far, no Republican member of the Senate Armed Services committee has come forward in support of Hagel. Its ranking member, Republican Jim Inhofe of Oklahoma, has gone as far as penning an op-ed criticizing his former colleague calling him "the wrong man to be defense secretary."