WASHINGTON — The American Future Fund, a conservative political organization that includes staffers who were behind the racially tinged "Willie Horton" ad of the 1980s and the "Swift Boat" ads in 2004, has now turned its sights on Sens. Saxby Chambliss and Johnny Isakson's support of a bipartisan energy proposal.
The group placed large ads in eight newspapers across Georgia -- including The Telegraph in Macon and the Columbus Ledger-Enquirer -- and has radio spots on 18 stations decrying the Georgia senators' efforts as part of the "Gas Gang."
"Instead of working to lower prices and make America less dependent on foreign oil -- Senators Saxby Chambliss and Johnny Isakson support the so-called 'gang of 10' plan. The 'gang of 10' plan fails to open massive American energy reserves and imposes $30 billion in new energy taxes," the ad reads.
The group also launched a national ad last week focused on energy policy reform on Fox News Channel's "O'Reilly Factor" and has run energy issue ads in Washington, D.C., Kentucky, Nevada and Colorado television stations and New Hampshire, South Dakota, Georgia, Tennessee and Louisiana radio stations, said spokesman Tim Albrecht.
"It's unfortunate that Chambliss and Isakson are betraying their conservative record by supporting record tax increases. That's unacceptable regardless of which party you're in," Albrecht said. "It's especially disheartening that these individuals with conservative records would betray that in a public relations ploy."
Until now, the organization has largely targeted Democratic lawmakers for criticism, such as its lambasting of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., for blocking votes on domestic drilling.
However, by targeting Georgia's two Republican senators, the year-old organization is adding its voice to a growing chorus of conservative criticism of Chambliss and Isakson's bipartisan energy proposal. Some conservative segments of the Republican Party are against the measure's proposal to steer clear of drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, a pet issue of Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin. The gas gang's proposal does call for opening areas of the Outer Continental Shelf to drilling and an increase in nuclear power.
The $84 billion price tag is offset by doing away with tax breaks for the oil and gas industry.
"What they're doing is closing off our energy options and raising taxes by billions of dollars that would result in thousands of jobs lost," Albrecht said. "This is not a party position, it's an economic and energy security position."
As a 501(c) (4), the group is allowed to engage in some political activity but doesn't have to disclose donors. However, on its website the group also lists a political action committee by the same name.
Albrecht declined to discuss whether the media ads targeting Chambliss and Isakson were funded, in part, by energy industry donors.
The group's ranks include some political heavy hitters who may have enough cache to pull in big donors.
Albrecht once worked for former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney's presidential campaign; Ben Ginsberg, an attorney who also advised the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth's attacks on Sen. John Kerry's military record in 2004, serves as the American Future Fund's legal counsel.
The group's media strategist, Larry McCarthy, is also the president of a Washington-based media company that crafted the racially tinged 1988 ad that linked Willie Horton, a convicted felon who committed rape and armed robbery while on a weekend release in Massachusetts, to then-governor and Democratic presidential candidate Michael Dukakis.
Both Isakson and Chambliss said they remain committed to ensuring that the spirit of a bipartisan solution to the energy crisis remains intact.
"America's growing energy crisis demands immediate action, and our group has worked to move the debate forward -- beyond the polarizing partisanship that has poisoned Washington," Chambliss said.