Three nonprofit advocacy groups with nationwide memberships are waging an ad battle in Kern County media over immigration reform, with U.S. Rep. Kevin McCarthy in the middle.
That's because the Bakersfield native's powerful status as House majority whip — the body's No. 3 leadership position — will make his influence on the issue count when Congress returns Sept. 9 from its summer recess.
HIT FROM ALL SIDES
Organizing for Action, which describes itself as non-partisan but was established to support President Obama's agenda, is the latest group to weigh in.
It launched ads Tuesday targeting McCarthy, R-Bakersfield, as well as House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, and U.S. Reps. Eric Cantor, R-Va., Gary Miller, R-Calif., and Dan Lipinski, D-Ill.
"Only a group of obstructionists in the House of Representatives are standing in the way — determined to block comprehensive immigration reform," an OFA ad script reads, urging listeners to tell McCarthy "… it's time to support immigration reform."
Then there's Santa Barbara-based Californians for Population Stabilization, which wants to stabilize the state's population to preserve its environment and quality of life. It has spent "in the very low six figures," according to its national media director, on two different TV ads and one radio ad aimed at McCarthy.
One TV spot accuses the congressman of "talking about legalizing 11 million illegal aliens, making it easier for them to take jobs, too," and asks, " … is that your idea of immigration reform?"
"We want Congressman McCarthy and all of his House colleagues, be they Republican or Democrat, to keep in mind the impact immigration legislation would have on Americans, working Americans," said CAPS National Media Director Joe Guzzardi. "Rarely is the question addressed in terms of what is the best thing for Americans."
On the other side, American Action Network, a center-right advocacy group based in Washington, D.C., has spent $65,000 on broadcast, digital and cable ads supporting McCarthy's stance on the issue as part of more than $1 million the group has spent on immigration since March.
Its TV ad says McCarthy has "the conservative approach we need, that starts with securing the border first," and tells viewers to call McCarthy, "to keep fighting to secure the border, and keep fighting for us."
"It's clear that there's a significant problem. Our immigration system is broken. We have a porous border," said Dan Conston, communications director for AAN. " … the reality is that the House and Congressman McCarthy are taking exactly the right approach to fixing the immigration system."
AAN's ads are airing from Aug. 20 though Monday. CAPS' ads air through Monday also, and first appeared Aug. 13, the day before an immigration rally in Bakersfield that drew about 1,500 activists from around the state, according to a police estimate.
Attendees challenged McCarthy to push his House colleagues to vote on immigration reform — and for a pathway to citizenship for the estimated 11 million illegal immigrants in the country.
A similar immigration rally from 4 to 6 p.m. Monday at the Fox Theater in Bakersfield is expected to draw around 1,000 people from Sacramento, San Jose, Los Angeles and San Diego County.
McCarthy was invited, an organizer of one of the caravans to Bakersfield said, but he declined to attend.
FUNDING SOURCES UNCLEAR
Who exactly is paying for the ads is unclear. Representatives from all three groups airing ads declined to give specifics about their funders.
Gary Winuk, chief of the California Fair Political Practices Commission's enforcement division, said the groups don't have to reveal how they paid for the ads or reveal their donors because they're nonprofits, not political action committees, and because McCarthy is not running for election this year.
"If they're a nonprofit, and they're just spending money to say, 'This is what we think about immigration,' they're not going to have a reportable (requirement) under state law," he said. "It's kind of a classic example — 'Tell your congressman not to support immigration reform.'"
NO RESPONSE FROM MCCARTHY
McCarthy did not respond to several requests for comment.
McCarthy's website says: "In order to reduce the number of illegal immigrants in our country, we must enforce the laws that already exist" and that he recommends securing the border with physical and electronic barriers.
McCarthy told the Porterville Chamber of Commerce Monday that he does not support giving legal status to those who are here illegally or who have committed a crime, according to The Porterville Recorder.
Dean Haddock, chairman of the Kern County Republican Central Committee, said McCarthy's relative silence is evidence he's doing his job.
"If he's doing that, he may be doing exactly what he's supposed to be doing, and getting his work done," Haddock said. "What I hear is that in Congress, he's doing what most of the conservative, middle-of-the-road Republicans want: 'Let's secure the border and let's take this one step at a time.'"
Kern County Democratic Party Chair Candi Easter said she doesn't see McCarthy working for anyone but the Republican Party.
"I think he needs to get the Republicans in Congress to compromise with the Democrats and come up with a bipartisan plan on immigration, something that's fair and is going to be good for the farmers, the immigrants, going to be good for everybody," Easter said. "I don't expect him to do that because he wants everything to be partisan."
Political consultants said this latest series of ads is nothing new in their world.
Steven Presson, a Sacramento media consultant who worked on the recent campaign of now-16th District state Sen. Andy Vidak, R-Hanford, called the ads "business as usual" but "awfully early here, with almost not quite a year to go until the next election" cycle.
Sacramento political consultant Mike Madrid, who specializes in Latino politics as a Republican operative, said so-called "issue ads" like these often work in marginal districts — but this is not a marginal district.
"He's going to be instrumental in putting a national deal together, so it's probably more of a distraction to people watching TV in the district than it is in swaying the congressman one way or the other," Madrid said.
WHY MCCARTHY IS TARGETED
Allan Hoffenblum, publisher of the California Target Book, an election guide, and owner of a Los Angeles political consulting firm, said McCarthy's being targeted because of his leadership spot in Congress, noting that Congress currently has a 17 percent positive approval rating.
"Them targeting him is more because of his position in the House," Hoffenblum said. "I don't think they're attacking him hoping to defeat him for re-election, but trying to persuade him one way or the other on the issues."
Kern County's other congressman, freshman David Valadao, R-Hanford, agreed this is why McCarthy's being targeted. Valadao has been more vocal about his own views on immigration.
Valadao got a rousing round of applause last month when he described his upbringing on a dairy farm, and said he supports comprehensive immigration reform, to a town hall meeting on the topic at Bakersfield Christian Church.
"We have to have a visa system that works," Valadao told The Californian. "We have to have a guest worker system that works as well for our valley."
Valadao's website says the congressman's "first priority is ensuring a path to earned legal status for those who are already here."
This sets Valadao apart from McCarthy, whose website further says the nation "should not provide any amnesty that would benefit those who defy our laws and enter the United States illegally."
That is "not the reality we're facing here in California, of deporting 400,000 people who are working in agriculture" illegally, said Rayne Pegg, manager of the California Farm Bureau Federation's federal policy division. "Our expectation is that he be included in any final bill, that there be a program that properly ethically addresses those that are currently here."