An ad from congressional candidate Bradley Byrne implying his opponent Dean Young pocketed $168,000 in donations from “good Christian people,” has not only been called “nonsense” by a leading non-partisan fact-checking organization, but has also raised the ire of Orange Beach Mayor Tony Kennon.
The ad, called “Profit,” has been in heavy rotation on local airwaves for the past week but took a major hit Oct. 23 when the group factcheck.org dismissed it as being full of false information and accusing Byrne of “using deceptive tactics.” The ad accuses Young of taking money meant to help the election of Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore by funneling it from the Christian Family Association PAC he had created to a media consulting firm he owned.
The ad fails to point out that Young’s firm, PMM Consulting, Inc., then used the majority of the money to purchase advertising spots for Moore’s election. Young told Lagniappe he did not profit personally from the money and Byrne’s camp has not provided documentation that he did either. Young forcefully denied having profited from the money he raised for Moore’s race.
State campaign records show Young also personally donated $30,000 to Moore’s campaign and PMM Consulting donated another $3,575. Along with the roughly $129,000 PMM spent on advertising purchases, it would appear very little, if any, of the original $168,000 could have landed in Young’s pocket.
It is worth noting factcheck.org is billed as being non-partisan and backed Byrne’s claims he was being unfairly maligned in television ads during his failed 2010 bid for the governor’s mansion.
Despite the factcheck.org findings, and media questions about the veracity of the ads, Byrne’s campaign manager Alex Schriver says his candidate stands by the charges he’s leveled against Young. Schriver said the ad is true and that the factcheck.org article even backs that up. Young, he said, should have disclosed where the money was spent in election forms filed with the Secretary of State’s Office.
“The burden was on him to disclose. He has no one but himself to blame,” Schriver said.
He went on to accuse Young of violating the Fair Campaign Act, but backed off when asked if he was alleging a crime on Young’s part.
“I’m not saying he broke the law,” Schriver said.
While campaigns are required to report payments to political consultants and media buyers, what buys are made with such funds are not typically included in disclosure reports. Young has provided some records of the media buys his firm made 13 years ago, but the campaign admits it does not have complete records of every purchase due to the length of time that has passed since they were made.
In his interview with Lagniappe, Young did say the reason money is spent that way in a political campaign is to make it more difficult for others to see exactly where advertising money is being spent.
Schriver also reiterated charges the Byrne campaign made last week that Young is a “political moneyman with ties to corruption.” A press release sent out Oct. 18 pointed out that Young helped raise more than $100,000 to re-elect former Orange Beach Mayor Steve Russo in 2004. Russo was later convicted of campaign finance fraud and taking bribes. Russo had appointed Young to an unpaid position on the Orange Beach Planning Commission following his election.
After Russo ran into legal problems Young publicly called for him to resign.
When asked why the campaign had decided to publicly go after Young when Byrne himself says he is leading comfortably in the polls, Schriver pointed to the tone and tenor of the campaign up to this point. He said the Young campaign has consistently attacked Byrne throughout the primary both “on the stump” and via robo calls made with the support of super PACs. Schriver says some of those have claimed that Byrne supports gay marriage, an issue that has been front-and-center in the campaign. In an interview with Lagniappe last week Byrne declared that he does not support gay marriage.
“We’ve taken punch after punch from Dean Young day after day. We chose to respond through the medium of TV,” Schriver said.
Young’s camp denies any involvement with robo calls claiming Byrne supports gay marriage.
Whether the debate over the veracity of Byrne’s “Profit” ad will adversely affect him with voters or not remains to be seen, but it has certainly affected the way Mayor Tony Kennon feels about the man who may wind up representing the First Congressional District.
Kennon spoke passionately about the issue Thursday, pointing out that when he, Steve Russo and others first ran for office, Russo had no political baggage that would have tainted Young’s involvement with him. He also said Young initially refused to help raise money for them because he was worried about alienating people in Orange Beach, where he’d recently moved.
“To say three years later that Dean was supporting a corrupt individual is just a cheap shot,” Kennon said. “I’m appalled Bradley would go this low.”
Kennon says he has expressed his feelings to Byrne about the ad and press release. He also feels it has revealed a side of the former state senator he had not seen.
“This is what separates politicians from public servants,” he said.
Kennon said he had refused to pick a horse in the District 1 race simply because it might mean alienating the eventual winner — someone he would then have to work with as his representative in Congress — but feels Byrne’s campaign has gone too far with attacks he believes are completely baseless. He says it has made him openly supportive of Young’s bid for Congress because Byrne is demonstrating a lack of character many Americans feel is already a huge problem in Congress.
“He’s no better than what’s already there in DC now. Why would we want to send him there?” Kennon said.
The Orange Beach mayor believes Byrne’s attacks on Young have crossed the line primarily because they were intended to play to voters’ faith in order to make them believe Young had duped and stolen from Christians.
“When I saw that commercial that said Dean Young stole from Christian people, it just made me want to spit in his eye,” Kennon said.