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New Freedom’s Watch looks a lot like old Republican Congressional Committee

By Carol Eisenberg

April 18, 2008 at 11:38am

Freedom’s Watch was ballyhooed last year as the Republicans’ answer to MoveOn.org. It was to be a grassroots conservative group bankrolled by billionaire conservatives like Sheldon Adelson of the Sands Corp.

But after a splashy debut last summer with a $15-million ad blitz supporting American troop escalation in Iraq, came months of silence. Late last month, the board announced that it had replaced president Bradley Blakeman, a former Bush operative, with Carl Forti, political director of Mitt Romney’s campaign and an alumnus of the National Republican Congressional Committee. The New York Times described the group last week as all-but-moribund, an organization “plagued by gridlock and infighting, leaving it struggling for direction.”

And then, as quick as you can say, ‘tax-and-spend Democrat,” the new Freedom’s Watch arrived this week – running attack ads in Baton Rouge designed to influence a May 3 special election for Louisiana’s 6th Congressional district. The ads portray state Rep. Don Cazayoux as a Democrat who never met a tax he didn’t like. Cazayoux is favored to win in a tight race with former state Rep. Woody Jenkins in a traditionally Republican district.

There are two potential problems: As a 501(c)(4) organization, Freedom’s Watch cannot coordinate with the Republican Congressional Campaign Committee, the campaign arm of House Republicans, or advocate for or against a particular candidate.

Asked about the decision to weigh in on the Louisiana race, Forti told the Washington Post that “tax policy is an enormously important issue nationally, and it is increasingly dominating the public policy debate.” He added that “with the economic slowdown, it’s important taxpayers know Don Cazayoux has a record of voting to raise taxes and fees on everything from groceries to hunting and fishing licenses.”

But the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee filed a complaint with the Federal Election Commission, saying the ads use the same script as earlier ads from the NRCC, and therefore show illegal coordination.

Patrick McCarthy, the media consultant who wrote the Cazayoux ad for Freedom’s Watch and a former staffer of the NRCC himself, said an innocent mistake caused the document to appear as if it came from the NRCC. McCarthy said he pulled up an old ad template from his NRCC days and wrote the Louisiana ad script over it, then saved the file and sent it to the TV stations.

“It’s absurd on the face of it. They’re grasping at straws if they’re saying recycling an old Word document is illegal,” said McCarthy who now works at Designated Market Media, whose partners all come from the RNCC or the Bush White House.

But perhaps it’s more absurd to think that Freedom’s Watch could be a separate and independent organization when its lineup is also an NRCC alumni Club. Besides Forti and consultant McCarthy, there’s also Ed Patru, a former NRCC spokesman.

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