Shields noted that the group has a good relationship with House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, the favorite to become speaker against long-shot challenges from Reps. Jason Chaffetz of Utah and Daniel Webster of Florida.
“Our interest is in having an effective conservative agenda that passes,” Shields said, repeating the word “conservative” more than 10 times in a telephone interview with National Journal. “And so there’s going to be different tactics along the way in how you go about passing that agenda, but the fact remains that there is not an ideological fight in the party. There is not, for instance, a massive pro-Obamacare wing in the party that’s fighting the big anti-Obamacare wing.”
As Boehner faced challenges to his leadership this year, American Action Network was more assertive than ever on intraparty battles. In March, American Action Network spent $400,000 to broadcast negative ads against Republican Reps. Tim Huelskamp, Jim Bridenstine, and Jim Jordan after they and other Republicans threatened to withhold funds for the Homeland Security Department unless the funding was tied to reversing President Obama’s executive order giving some undocumented immigrants legal status. (None of the three responded to requests for comment.)
After Boehner gave up on undoing Obama’s executive action, AAN’s TV ads showed images of what appeared to be members of ISIS, saying Huelskamp, Bridenstine, and Jordan were “willing to put our security at risk by jeopardizing critical security funding.”
American Action Network also ran positive ads thanking members who sided with Boehner on DHS funding, as well as ones thanking members who supported the party leadership’s proposed budget, supported a leadership-backed Trade Promotion Authority bill, and opposed a White House-proposed set of fiduciary rules.
Shields attributed the group’s activity to its fundraising success as it becomes more established.
“This was a higher volume of issue advocacy this spring than the American Action Network had had in the past,” Shields said. “And a lot of that was due to the financial success that the organization had had in raising money.”
Rep. Walter Jones of North Carolina, a frequent critic of House GOP leaders and allied groups, was not the subject of the negative ads on DHS funding. But he said he didn’t take kindly to seeing leadership spend hundreds of thousands of dollars against Republicans.
“These are absolutely what destroys the American people’s confidence in members doing what members are elected to do,” Jones said. “Because when leadership starts running ads against fellow colleagues because they’re not willing to be a puppet for leadership, then that’s why you’ve got Donald Trump … and Bernie Sanders running so strong now.”
To Jones’s dismay, these groups’ involvement in House races highlights the importance of a new speaker’s ability to fundraise for the party. As Democrats look to pick off as many swing-seat incumbents as possible, the next speaker needs to be a prolific fundraiser, Shields said.