Tom Nickels, AHA's senior vice president for federal relations, said the increase in independent expenditures reflects the changing dynamics of campaign finance following the U.S. Supreme Court's 2010 Citizens United ruling striking down spending restrictions. Since then, super PACs supported by wealthy donors have gained big influence, making it more difficult for traditional PACs to make a difference. “PACs like us need to participate far more aggressively in races that are really in play,” Nickels said.
The AHA PAC's early presence on the airwaves primarily has been aimed at supporting GOP incumbents facing more conservative, tea party-aligned primary challengers.
The AHA spent just over $100,000 each on ads supporting congressmen David Joyce of Ohio and Mike Simpson of Idaho. Both triumphed in May primaries.
The AHA also poured $200,000 into media ads backing Sen. Thad Cochran (R-Miss.), who barely survived a runoff election last month against a tea party-backed challenger.
Cochran “is a candidate who has been very, very supportive of hospitals in the state,” Nickels said.
In Kansas, the AHA is spending $200,000 to bolster Sen. Pat Roberts, who faces a challenge on his right flank from Dr. Milton Wolf. The ads praise Roberts as a leader on rural healthcare issues.
Nickels said the AHA learned from the 2010 and 2012 election cycles, which saw moderate Republicans such as Sen. Richard Lugar of Indiana lose to more conservative challengers. “We want to be helpful to mainstream candidates who listen to their hospital constituents,” he said.
The AHA also has spent roughly $180,000 each on ads supporting Democratic senators Mark Pryor of Arkansas and Mark Begich of Alaska. Both of their races are rated toss-ups.
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