Attack ads draw complaint in 3rd

State Democrats filed a federal elections complaint this week alleging that Republican Jaime Herrera’s campaign in the 3rd Congressional District might have illegally collaborated with a third-party group on ads attacking Democratic candidate Denny Heck.

Herrera’s campaign denied any involvement with the reported $180,000 worth of television ads from the national Americans for Prosperity group. The ads began after the Aug. 17 primary, and the conservative group attacked Heck’s campaign message about creating jobs.

Heck – an Olympia entrepreneur, former legislator and co-founder of the TVW network – finished first in the Aug. 17 primary, followed by Herrera, a state lawmaker from Camas. Both qualified as the finalists for the Nov. 2 ballot.

State Democratic chairman Dwight Pelz mailed his complaint to the Federal Elections Commission on Wednesday, asking it to investigate what he saw as a suspicious connection between the group and Herrera’s campaign. If the two parties collaborated, the expenditure would have exceeded the contribution limits for federal races, Pelz said.

The ads featured statements from Herrera’s legislative campaign manager, Aaron Christopherson, and others associated with the current campaign, including Ryan Hart and Keith Huff, Pelz said. The Herrera supporters said Heck would put the “agenda” of U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi above interests of Southwest Washington’s 3rd District.

“It is implausible that Herrera’s friends, former employees, party supporters, surrogates, and endorsers would have all agreed to appear in the AFP advertisement without the assent, substantial discussion or material involvement of Herrera or her campaign concerning the ad itself,” Pelz wrote.

FEC spokeswoman Julia Queen said the agency had not received the complaint and could not say how it would be handled.

Herrera campaign spokesman Casey Bowman said in an e-mail that “there was no coordination on our part. We knew nothing about this ad until we saw it up and running on TV.”

Bowman called the complaint “page one of the Democratic campaign committee playbook – when things aren’t going your way, waste taxpayer dollars filing frivolous complaints. They’ll do anything to avoid talking about the economy or the debt run up by a Democrat-controlled Congress.”

“The complaint speaks for itself,” Heck spokesman Grant Lahmann said. “There are definitely very serious questions … . What is clear is that extremely conservative groups have aligned themselves with our Republican opponent. These folks have advocated for keeping tax breaks that ship jobs overseas and privatizing Social Security. … This is not what the 3rd Congressional District needs right now.”

Lahmann said new campaign rules allowing “unlimited” spending by interest groups has put heightened attention on the actions of independent expenditure groups. As a result, he thinks the FEC might move on the complaint.

New polling by SurveyUSA, done for Seattle-based KING-TV on Monday and Tuesday, showed Herrera leading Heck by a 54 percent to 41 percent margin; it polled 700 voters and had an error margin of 4.2 percent. In a sign of Heck’s challenge to keep the seat in Democrats’ hands, Republicans outpolled Democrats by a 53 percent to 43 percent margin in the primary voting, but Heck was the top vote-getter with 31 percent.

Brad Shannon: 360-704-6869 bshannon@theolympian.com www.theolympian.com/politicsblog