By Richard Gaines Staff Writer
Gloucester Daily Times
---- — Next Tuesday will cap the first full national election cycle in which the Supreme Court has freed corporations to spend at will and without limit on condition they operate independently.
And these so-called Super PACS — drawn from the traditional PAC, or political action committee — are playing a significant role in targeting Cape Ann voters, where they have given Republican challenger Richard Tisei a $1.4 million advantage in his campaign to wrest the 6th District congressional seat away from eight-term Democratic incumbent John Tierney, according to public disclosures.
With spending nationally by these Super PACs or “527s” — named for the section of the Internal Revenue Service Code that covers them — edging toward the $1 billion mark nationally — a relatively small scale example of the genre of political advertising is Strong Economy for Massachusetts Inc., and its advertising targeting Tierney is representative of the graphic nature of the messages showing up on TV and in mailboxes.
But few voters may know that the little corporation for a “strong economy” was organized by Peter Torkildsen — the last Republican to hold a Massachusetts seat in Congress, and the one from whom Tierney took the House seat in 1996. Torkildsen’s role in the “Strong Economy” corporation is documented on the Massachusetts secretary of state’s corporations website.
In one recent piece of shiny folded mass mail, Torkildsen’s 527 seems to be accusing Tierney of “Sports Gambling,” “Tax Fraud” and “Criminal Enterprise,” as part of nefarious story that is beginning to “unravel” like the baseball whose cover symbolically is coming off.
A second piece in the same folded format rivets sadness, anger and attention with a photo of the U.S. consulate in Benghazzi, Libya, in flames on last Sept. 11, the night the ambassador and three staff were slain in an event of murky motives that make for domestic political exploitation.
Inside the mailer is the suggestion, a clear inference, that Tierney is weak on terrorism — because he did not attend a House Government Oversight Hearing on the tragedy in Benghazzi. “One meeting ... symbolizes John Tierney’s Refusal to Defend Freedom” the copy reads. “We must never forget ... John Tierney will not keep us safe, because he can’t be bothered to show up.”
The first piece of advertising concludes with the undisputed statement that Tierney “didn’t pay any taxes” on $200,000 his wife was given by her brother, who is a fugitive. Torkildsen said he considered the issue fair game because The Boston Globe reported that tax “specialists” it contacted concluded that some of the $200,000 “could be” reportable income.
Torkildsen gave an identical answer to the Times about the unraveling baseball piece and the burning consulate piece when pressed about the overriding implicit messages, that Tierney is dishonest and a weakling on terrorism.
“The flyer speaks for itself,” Torkildsen repeated.
Despite losing his seat to Tierney 16 years ago, Torkildsen said Tuesday that revenge was not part of his motive for organizing the Super PAC; the former chairman of the Republican State Committee said he has a long-standing friendship with Tisei, who served 26 years in the legislature and was the Republican nominee for lieutenant governor in 2010.
Torkildsen’s Super PAC has spent a relatively modest $79,741 so far but has about twice that in hand for the closing week, according to the nonpartisan watchdog group, the Sunlight Foundation.
Its website indicates that Supe PACs have already spent $3,013,041 in advertising against Tierney; the congressman’s Super PAC allies have spent $1,587,180 in anti-Tisei advertising.
Paul Moore, campaign manager for Tisei, said he agreed with the Torkildsen and The Boston Globe that “there’s no question (Tierney) failed to report income to the IRS, and we believe that he should have.” Moore also said that Torkildsen was correct that Tierney did not attend a hearing of the House Government Oversight Committee.
Moore added, however, that Tisei “has never questioned the congressman’s patriotism and never would.”
Matt Robison, Tierney’s campaign manager, said, “Richard Tisei knows full well that there has never been an issue with John Tierney’s taxes: The Boston Globe said his taxes were unremarkable and a former senior counsel to the IRS confirmed that all of his taxes were paid correctly and in full.”
”It is Richard Tisei who has some explaining to do about how he failed to pay a single penny in federal income taxes in 2006 and 2008 while making over $140,000 in taxpayer-funded salary and owning several properties including a vacation home in Martha’s Vineyard,” Robison charged.
As for the congressional hearing that Tierney didn’t attend, Robison said Tierney had been chairman of the subcommittee when the Democrats were in the House majority and had held hearings into consulate security, but saw no reason to participate in what Robinson called Republican Chairman Dan Issa’s manipulation of the tragedy for political motives.
In the wake of the guilty plea by Patrice Tierney for aiding and abetting her brother’s illegal offshore gambling activities, the National Republican Campaign Committee and its so-called Young Guns PAC have focused their resources on helping Tisei take Tierney’s place in the 113th Congress.
Together, the RNCC and its Young Guns — which included House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan before he was picked to be Mitt Romney’s vice-presidential running mate — have spent $2,302,869 against Tierney to date.
Torkildsen, meanwhile, offered a hint about the use of the $130,000 he estimated he had to spend.
He said he had an ad ready; “it involves a prominent Boston newspaper that doesn’t normally endorse Republicans.”
The Globe endorsed Tisei for the 6th District seat on Oct. 23.
Richard Gaines can be reached at 978-283-7000, x3474, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.