A lawyer for Rep. Richard Neal (D-Mass.) sent a letter to television stations in Western Massachusetts last week urging them to stop airing an ad that criticizes the congressman for taking large sums of money from corporate PACs.
The ad, which prominently displays a headline from a Sludge article that was reposted to The American Prospect, says in a voiceover that Neal “took more money from corporations than any other member of Congress.” On the screen, the ad cites Sludge’s February 2020 report, which is headlined, “Richard Neal is Number One in Corporate PAC Donors.” The TV ad was produced and funded by a super PAC affiliate of progressive group Justice Democrats.
The fact that Neal is number one in corporate PAC donors is not being disputed by Neal’s lawyer. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, Neal has received $1,970,393 from corporate and business PACs this cycle, more than from any other House member, Democrat or Republican. The letter, which was initially obtained by TMI, objects to the ad’s voiceover, which says that the money came “from corporations,” rather than saying “from corporate PACs”.
The letter claims that the ad accuses Neal of criminally violating campaign finance laws, which prohibits candidates from taking direct corporate donations. The image on the screen at that section of the ad states that the money came from corporate PACs.
Corporations and their PACs are legally separate entities. Candidates are not allowed to take contributions from corporate treasuries, but PACs, which are known under federal election law as “separate segregated funds,” can legally donate up to $5,000 per election to candidates. Corporate PACs are typically funded by executives and employees and cannot be funded by corporations’ treasuries, but they are “managed by, and part of, the corporation,” according to the law firm Venable. Corporate PACs are often overseen by oversight boards composed of representatives from the government affairs division and other stakeholders within their affiliated corporations.
The letter, from top Democratic law firm Perkins Coie, also appears to threaten legal action against stations that choose to continue running the ad. “Because you need not run this ad, you enjoy no immunity from liability for its false claims, and are fully responsible for the defamation and any other torts that might result from their dissemination,” the letter says.
The Neal campaign’s letter comes as the congressman, who has been a House member since 1989, faces what is widely considered to be the most competitive primary challenge of his career. His challenger, Holyoke Mayor Alex Morse, who has not accepted corporate PAC money for his campaign, has repeatedly called out Neal for taking corporate PAC money while using his position as chairman of the powerful Ways and Means Committee to block legislation opposed by his donors.
“You should never have to wonder who your member of Congress is fighting for,” Morse said at a debate earlier this month.
Neal has defended his corporate PAC fundraising by saying that he has spent some of the money to support other Democrats running for office. Much of the money Neal spends for other Democrats comes from his leadership PAC, Madison PAC, which is a separate PAC controlled by Neal that is also heavily funded by corporate PAC donations. The corporate PAC money Neal takes in through Madison PAC was not factored in the Sludge article at the center of this debate, but would dramatically increase his corporate PAC total if it had been.
For an overview of Neal’s corporate PAC donors from 2019, see the data table at the bottom of the article linked here, which lists hundreds of them, including many in the top 50 federal donors this election cycle like the PACs of AT&T, Blue Cross Blue Shield, and Comcast.
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