Lobbyist-Led Dark Money Group Buys Pro-Schrader Ads in Tightly Contested Oregon Primary

Better Jobs Together, which previously ran ads for Henry Cuellar and Kyrsten Sinema, is on the air for Kurt Schrader in his primary contest against a progressive challenger.

Lobbyist-Led Dark Money Group Buys Pro-Schrader Ads in Tightly Contested Oregon Primary
Rep. Kurt Schrader (D-Ore.) in an outside spending group's campaign ad.

A second “dark money” group, one controlled by telecom and fossil fuel industry lobbyists, is parachuting in to promote Rep. Kurt Schrader ahead of his closely-contested Democratic primary with challenger Jamie McLeod-Skinner in Oregon’s Fifth Congressional District.

The group Better Jobs Together (BJT) is airing $181,000 worth of pro-Schrader ads on broadcast and cable television in the Bend, Oregon area, according to a media monitoring alert viewed by Sludge. One ad touts Schrader’s work in the House, citing his vote for the infrastructure package, and his cosponsorship of a Republican energy bill, among other things. In a voiceover using campaign photos of the seven-term representative, as well as photos of puppies, the spot asks viewers to call Schrader to ask him to “keep protecting the people and pets of Oregon.”

Last month, in a statement to The Intercept, Schrader wrote that he was working to “fight dark money in politics,” among other causes. At the same time, the dark money group Center Forward, whose directors include lobbyists for the pharmaceutical industry and is closely tied to the Blue Dog Coalition whose PAC Schrader chairs, was spending $385,000 on TV and digital ads to bolster Schrader’s reputation on prescription drug pricing and other issues. The Schrader campaign did not respond to requests for comment on the campaign aid from either dark money group, in what one poll showed is a neck-and-neck race.

The spots are BJT’s first ad buy in the Oregon primary, but this year the shadowy group has spent big on ads for another Blue Dog Coalition member, Henry Cuellar, who is facing a Democratic primary challenge in a South Texas district. In early February, NBC News reported that BJT had been the dominant ad spender in the race, with $1.4 million spent on Cuellar’s behalf.

By avoiding language specifically saying to elect Schrader or defeat his opponent and by running the ads more than 30 days before the election, BJT has so far evaded the Federal Election Commission’s definition of “electioneering communications” and thus is not required to report its ad activity.

The website for Better Jobs Together has no language about who is behind the group, only showing its gauzy ads, including one from August supporting Arizona Sen. Kyrsten Sinema. At the time, Sinema was one of the conservative Democrats blocking the Democrats’ sweeping Build Back Better Act in Congress, rejecting its top-line dollar amount and opposing a proposed tax rate increase for millionaires. More centrist Democrats featured in BJT ads on its website include a trio of U.S. reps from Texas: Lizzie Fletcher, who proposed an oil industry bailout during the pandemic; Marc Veasey, one of four co-chairs of the bipartisan F-35 Joint Strike Fighter Caucus; and Vicente Gonzalez, another Blue Dog whose second-highest career donor has been the oil and gas industry, according to OpenSecrets.