NPR

Outside Group Sends Blunt Message In N.C. Senate Race

Libertarian North Carolina Senate candidate Sean Haugh tweets his views on his support from American Future Fund. (Twitter/Sean Haugh)

"More weed, less war."

That's the latest campaign slogan in the North Carolina Senate race advertising wars. And no, neither Democratic incumbent Kay Hagan nor Republican challenger Thom Tillis is jumping on the state's marijuana legalization effort.

A quarter million dollars in online ads is now supporting a third-party Senate challenger — Libertarian candidate and pizza delivery guy Sean Haugh. The ads are coming from an unlikely source: the American Future Fund, a secret-donor political group backed by the billionaire industrialist Koch brothers.

The spots are aimed at young voters who typically support Democrats. One features a twenty-something who criticizes Hagan for opposing legalization and supporting President Obama's war efforts in Afghanistan.

"Vote Sean Haugh," she says. "He shares our progressive values. Pro-legalization, pro-environment. More weed, less war."

In a tweet, Haugh says he now has "a whole new reason to despise Koch brothers & their dark money."

"It's all kind of surreal, frankly," Haugh told NPR. "Obviously they want to try to use me to siphon votes away from Kay Hagan and maybe swing the election to Thom Tillis."

Neither American Future Fund nor Koch Industries responded to queries about their strategy. But Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee spokesman Justin Barasky said: "The Koch Brothers are doing everything they can to elect Speaker Tillis because no one has gone to the mat for the Koch Brothers more than he has."

Haugh is drawing about 6 percent in public polls, with some analysts believing his support is coming equally from those who would otherwise vote for Hagan or Tillis.

The $225,000 is nearly 30 times more than the $7,744 Haugh said he has spent for himself.

To put that in perspective, the two main party candidates and outside groups have already spent $85 million on the North Carolina Senate race in advertising that directly tells voters to support or oppose a candidate. Non-profit political groups that are allowed to keep their donors secret, including the Koch brothers-founded Americans for Prosperity, have spent tens of millions of dollars more in so-called "issue" ads attacking Hagan.

"You have to wonder why people are willing to spend up to $100 million to elect somebody to a job that only pays $174,000 a year," Haugh said.

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