Burst of 'dark money' to boost Heck on TV, radio

U.S. Senate candidate and Rep. Joe Heck is getting a big boost from One Nation, a nonprofit group with ties to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.

One Nation has launched a $792,000 ad buy that will run on Las Vegas TV and radio stations. The 30-second clip will run for 20 days, the group said in a press release Thursday.

The group's ads don't directly tell viewers to vote for Heck, a Republican who is running for Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid's seat in the 2016 election. Reid, D-Nev., is retiring when his term ends, setting the stage for an open race that will draw national attention. It's one of only a handful where the GOP could potentially pick up a seat in 2016.

The ad buy is an early indicator of the outside money that is expected to pour into direct and indirect efforts to sway the election and tilt the balance of power in the Senate.

More than $1 million has already been spent on advertising favorable to Heck — all from outside groups — since he announced. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce put $400,000 into pro-Heck television and digital ads in July, Federal Elections Commission records show. That puts the total figure at nearly $1.2 million.

The presumptive GOP nominee is Heck, a 3rd District congressman who also is a physician and brigadier general in the Army Reserve. The leading Democratic contender is Catherine Cortez Masto, a former Nevada attorney general who has Reid's blessing.

One Nation has ties to both Karl Rove, a former operative for then-President George W. Bush, and McConnell, who became Senate majority leader after the red Republican wave of the 2014 elections put a GOP majority in the Senate.

"Congressman Heck has been breaking through the partisan gridlock in Washington and advancing bipartisan solutions to create jobs in Nevada," said Steven Law, former chief of staff to McConnell and president of One Nation, in a statement. Law is also president of American Crossroads, a super political action committee that Rove helped found.

Groups such as One Nation are allowed under IRS rules to do public policy advocacy on issues, but cannot directly encourage people to vote for candidates. It's a 501(c)4 group, falling under a different IRS category from tax-exempt charities. Such organizations are commonly called "dark money" groups because they aren't forced to disclose the source of their money, which is required of campaigns and political action committees.

The ad heaps praise on Heck's legislation aimed at job creation in Nevada and increasing tourism, putting him in a favorable light during the early months of the campaign.

"There is no doubt that the most important issue I'm working on is job creation," Heck says in the clip.

In keeping with the rules, the ad doesn't mention the election, or tell viewers to vote for Heck.

"Call Congressman Joe Heck and tell him to keep fighting for good paying jobs here in Nevada," the ad says.

Both the Heck and the Cortez Masto campaigns declined comment.

Cortez Masto is using the ad buy as a reason to ask for campaign contributions.

"They're fighting back twice as hard, launching $800,000 in new ads on TV and radio to flood the Nevada airwaves," her campaign wrote to supporters this week.

Zach Hudson, spokesman for the Nevada State Democratic Party, was critical of the ad buy.

"Nevadans are fed up with the dysfunction and gridlock coming from Congressman Heck and politicians in Washington, so it isn't surprising out of state special interests linked to George Bush's top operative are beginning to run ads propping up Congressman Heck's candidacy," Hudson said in a prepared statement.

Contact Ben Botkin at bbotkin@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2904. Find him on Twitter: @BenBotkin1.