A leading pro-Trump dark money group just helped Republicans win a huge special election victory. Now it’s threatening to take out a vulnerable GOP Senator.
America First Policies, a non-profit advocacy outfit, plans on spending seven figures attacking Nevada Republican Sen. Dean Heller if he maintains his opposition to White House-backed health care legislation, the group confirmed on Friday.
The potential ad buy was first reported by The New York Times.
Such an aggressive strike at one of the Senate’s most vulnerable Republicans would signal a willingness by pro-Trump groups to go directly after members of the president’s party that stand in the way of his legislative agenda.
It would threaten to pit outside pro-Trump forces against the GOP establishment as the 2018 midterm elections approach. Heller is the only Republican facing reelection in a state carried by Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton last year.
That tenuous political position likely factored into Heller’s announcement on Friday that he would not support newly unveiled legislation to roll back the Affordable Care Act. "It's simply not the answer," Heller said of the bill. "And I'm announcing today that in this form, I simply will not support it."
That quickly drew America First’s ire, but Brian Walsh, the group’s president, seemed to leave the door open to a ceasefire if Heller changes his position on the legislation.
“Senator Heller, who once claimed he would focus on ‘repealing and replacing Obamacare with a willing partner in the White House,’ appears to be heading down a path with Nancy Pelosi, Chuck Schumer and the radical left,” Walsh said in a statement. “We sure hope he changes his mind as he learns more about the bill.”
It was not immediately clear what form America First’s offensive against Heller might take, if it does materialize. Former Trump campaign aide Katrina Pierson, a spokeswoman for the group, said it would consist of "ads, digital, [and] grassroots" expenditures.
“Parscale will be using all of his resources," Pierson said, referring to the group’s founder, former Trump campaign digital director Brad Parscale.
America First’s first official foray directly into electoral politics came earlier this month, when the group spent more than $1.5 million on television and digital ads attacking Jon Ossoff, the unsuccessful Democratic candidate in a hotly contested—and exorbitantly expensive—special election in an Atlanta-area congressional district.
Parscale founded the group in January, and it has emerged as one of the foremost pro-Trump outfits among a constellation of independent groups that have sprung up since last year’s election. Unlike most, however, America First is a 501(c)(4) “dark money” group, meaning it is not required to disclose the donors that fund its advertisements and other activities.
Marty Obst, a former aide to vice president Mike Pence and America First’s chief fundraiser, told Politico in March that the group had raised $25 million in its first two months.
In its early stages, America First had the backing of the wealthy pro-Trump Mercer family, which helped finance pro-Trump efforts during the 2016 campaign. But internal disputes with Parscale led the Mercers to throw their weight behind other outside players.
Parscale, who led ambitious digital and data efforts during the campaign—and whose consulting firms received nearly $90 million for their efforts—has reportedly seen his role at the group diminish.
In April, America First brought on Walsh, a veteran Republican operative, as its new president. Walsh had previously run more establishment-aligned political groups such as the Congressional Leadership Fund, a super PAC with close ties to Speaker Paul Ryan.
A month earlier, former White House deputy chief of staff Katie Walsh—no relation to Brian—left the West Wing to join America First, a move described as an effort to provide outside “air cover” for the White House’s agenda.
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