Watch the Chamber of Commerce’s Ad Buys

Maybe it’s because Tom Donohue isn’t as colorful as Sheldon Adelson, maybe it’s because this part of campaign finance law isn’t well understood, but the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s ad buys are absolutely key to determining control of the U.S. Senate. The Chamber’s funds are basically endless; it can enter races that Republicans don’t see much of a chance of winning, like Hawaii’s, and Maine’s. And they’re some of the most cookie-cutter, smartly misleading stuff you’ll see all year.

Take the new ad in Maine, where the Chamber is trying to drive down independent Angus King’s favorable numbers and allow the Republican to win a three-way race. The Chamber’s spent $400,000 so far on ads pointing out that King – governor from 1995 to 2003 – increased spending. (In an era of surging revenues! Imagine.) The new ad says he’s out of touch because he ignores “issues.”

That quote does sound out of touch, doesn’t it? But it wasn’t given to National Journal, and it’s not complete. It’s a quote from one of many soft profiles of King, one that appeared in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on July 22. National Journal’s Hotline grabbed it on July 24. In the full quote, King’s not dismissing “health care or even the economy.” He’s saying

When I’m campaigning, nobody talks to me about health care or even the economy. It’s ‘the system’ people talk about. Why can’t they compromise? Why can’t they act like adults? Why can’t they represent the public interest instead of the parties? People just want the problems solved. Washington realizes how far out of touch it is.

It’s a good, generic message about how Washington needs more bipartisanship. It’s actually the exact same argument the Chamber’s making in an ad for former Gov. Linda Lingle, who’s got the impossible-seeming challenge of winning a U.S. Senate seat in Hawaii with Barack Obama leading the Democratic ticket.

Same organization, same money, but in this case it’s a virtue to ignore “health care and the economy” and just talk about how independent a senator’s going to be.