American Chemistry Council Airs Ads to Boost Senators Facing Re-election

A trade group representing chemical companies will spend more than $150,000 on advertising during July in support of four Republican senators and one Democrat, all of whom face reelection in 2020.

The American Chemistry Council, which represents nearly 200 companies including DuPont, Chevron Phillips and ExxonMobil, is running TV and radio ads in Alaska, Delaware, Louisiana, Montana and South Dakota between July 8 and 21, according to Federal Communications Commission records accessed via OpenSecrets’ political ad database. Sens. Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska), Chris Coons (D-Del.), Bill Cassidy (R-La.), Steve Daines (R-Mont.) and Mike Rounds (R-S.D.) all face reelection next year.

The ads that mention Cassidy, Daines and Rounds praise the three senators for tax cuts. Sullivan receives recognition for ocean cleanup, while Coons is applauded for his sustainability efforts. All of the ads end by encouraging viewers to call their senators and thank them.

For each ad, FCC records list either the 2020 Senate election or the name of a senator facing reelection as the political matter of national importance. The ads are framed as issue advocacy, as they stop short of explicitly advocating for or against a candidate, and they air outside of the window before elections when electioneering communications are required to be disclosed. Therefore, the spending does not need to be reported to the Federal Elections Commission.

Sixteen months ahead of the general election, it is unclear who will be challenging the five senators. No candidate has filed to run against Cassidy or Coons, while two independent candidates have filed against Sullivan. The mayor of Helena, Mont., has filed to challenge Daines, though many expect Gov. Steve Bullock to enter the race as well if his bid for the Democratic presidential nomination falls short. Former South Dakota state Sen. Scyller Borglum has announced a primary challenge against Rounds.

The plurality of the currently identified July advertising money, nearly $69,000, will be spent in South Dakota, where the council will run more than 300 spots. The council endorsed Rounds when he ran for the state’s open Senate seat in 2014 and ran independent ads on his behalf, calling the Republican a “proven leader” who “supports small business.” Rounds easily won that race.

The organization will also spend about $55,000 in Alaska, $31,000 in Montana, and $6,400 in Louisiana, according to FCC filings. The advertisements will air on shows including CBS This Morning and Face the Nation. Their target audience is adults over the age of 35. No stations in Delaware have reported carrying ads about Coons, but the council said in a press release that it is running them.In past election cycles, the chemistry council has supported candidates from both major parties, though it has generally given more to Republicans. During the 2018 midterm cycle, its PAC gave $195,000 to Democrats and $354,000 to Republicans. The Democrats who received the most from the PAC in 2018 were Rep. Cedric Richmond (D-La.) and former Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.), who received $8,500 and $9,000, respectively.

The council’s president and CEO is former Rep. Calvin Dooley (D-Calif.), who retired from Congress in 2005 and joined the organization in 2008. Dooley received thousands of dollars from the council’s PAC when he was running for reelection in the early 2000s.

In addition to contributions to candidates through its PAC, the council itself spent heavily on “issue ads” about the “economy and regulations” in 2018, according to FCC filings. The group spent nearly $2.5 million on independent expenditures during the 2018 election cycle, $900,000 of which was classified as electioneering communications.

The council is a 501(c)(6) organization, so IRS rules state that politics cannot be its primary purpose. The rule has generally been interpreted to mean that up to 49.9 percent of any 501(c)(6) group’s expenditures may go toward politics. This interpretation allows the council, which had a revenue of $121 million in 2017 according to IRS filings, to spend millions of dollars on politics.The council is not required to disclose its donors, and does not do so voluntarily. It has received contributions from the American Petroleum Institute in past years, according to grants disclosed in IRS records examined by OpenSecrets.

The council also spent nearly $1.3 million on lobbying during the first quarter of 2019. The organization, like many trade groups, has spoken out against tariffs imposed by President Donald Trump and in favor of the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement.

This spring, the group was critical of laws passed in Maine and Vermont that banned the use of certain chemicals and materials in food packaging. It supported a Japanese initiative to reduce plastic leakage into the world’s oceans.

In 2016, the council supported the landmark reform of the Toxic Substances Control Act, which passed with bipartisan support and was signed by President Barack Obama. The reforms, known as the Lautenberg Chemical Safety Act, gave the EPA increased authority to ban potentially dangerous chemicals. The act received pushback from some environmental groups for failing to provide the agency with sufficient funding to effectively review chemicals and requiring the agency to consider the cost to companies when deciding whether to eliminate a harmful chemical.