New Alabama-based Political Action Committee spends millions to support Doug Jones, draws fire

HUNTSVILLE, Ala. —  A new Alabama-based political action committee, Highway 31, is taking an active role in the Alabama special election for a U.S. Senate seat, and it’s drawn criticism for avoiding disclosure of its donors.

The group was formed in early November and under federal election law won’t have to disclose its donors until Jan. 21, about five weeks after the U.S. Senate special election. Records show it has committed $2.9 million toward the race in supporting Democrat Doug Jones and opposing Republican Roy Moore.

The wrinkle in the group’s approach, which has drawn attention both in Alabama and from national media, is that Highway 31 has been able to get vendors who provide TV ads and direct mail services to provide their services on credit. That means there’s been no actual spending yet to record in campaign records.

The Birmingham-based group says it is complying with the law and believes it is vital that Alabama opposes Moore, said spokesman Adam Muhlendorf.

“Highway 31 continues to follow every appropriate rule and regulation,” Muhlendorf said. “The end of the reporting period was in the middle of the PAC’s startup. The PAC will file contributors per the FEC reporting schedule.”

But the Washington, D.C.-based, nonpartisan campaign finance watchdog group the Campaign Legal Center said failing to disclose donors means voters won’t have the information they need before the election.

“This scheme cooked up, delaying full donor disclosure after Election Day is a real problem,” said the Center’s Brendan Fischer. “It has the effect of keeping voters in the dark on who’s trying to influence them.”

Highway 31 has also drawn criticism from Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill. Merrill’s office said they received complaints about a short ad produced by Highway 31. Merrill said the ad misleads voters concerning how their vote is handled.

The ad drew the attention of conservative media and led to complaints to Merrill. It’s not easy to find. WHNT News got a copy of it from Merrill’s office which had recorded it off a computer replaying a Fox News segment and disseminated it.

This the text of the Highway 31 ad Merrill criticized:

“If you don’t vote and Roy Moore – a child predator – wins. Could you live with that? Your vote is public record and your community will know whether or not you helped stop Roy Moore. On Tuesday December 12th vote for Doug Jones for Senate.”

Merrill sent out a news release regarding the ad.

“Reports from several sources indicate a targeted effort to misinform and confuse voters regarding whether an individuals’ voting record would be available to the public,” Merrill said in the news release. “No individual voting record is made available to anyone at any time, including the voter who cast the ballot.”

But Highway 31 disagrees with Merrill’s assessment and refused his request discontinue it.

“The Secretary of State is distorting the intent of the ad,” said Highway 31 spokesman Muhlendorf. “Whether or not someone votes is public knowledge. The ad is not improper. Standing up and voting against Roy Moore on December 12 is critically important to the future of our state and we are going to make sure all Alabamians know that.”

The Secretary of State’s office says voter registration records will reflect if someone voted in a given election, but not the details of their vote.