WASHINGTON - The American Chemistry Council didn't air a single broadcast television commercial in the early months of the 2010 U.S. congressional races.
Today, the Washington-based trade organization is one of the most prolific election advertisers in this year's midterms, with more TV ads on air than any of the political party groups. It's also a rare group defying partisanship.
Ads backing five Republicans and two Democrats make the council the third-biggest advertiser among outside groups early in the 2014 campaign, according to data from New York-based Kantar Media's CMAG, a broadcast advertising tracker. Only Americans for Prosperity, which promotes limited government and aids Republicans, and Senate Majority PAC, a super-political action committee helping Democrats, have run more ads.
The council, whose members include Dow Chemical Co., 3M Co., and Eastman Chemical Co., has intensified election activities to help vulnerable lawmakers who want to boost domestic energy production and manufacturing, said Calvin Dooley, its chief executive officer.
"We are concerned about candidates on either side of the aisle that are more motivated by partisan and polarizing issues versus those that respond to challenges facing our economy," Dooley, a Democrat who formerly served in the House from California, said in an interview. "Some of the candidates on the Republican side seem more motivated by the social issues and are not as focused on some of the economic issues."
The council's bipartisan focus distinguishes it because its actions aren't aimed at helping one party or the other win control of the U.S. Senate. Instead, it's working to ensure industry allies hold their seats, no matter their party affiliation.
Republicans need a net gain of six seats to take over the Senate. The council has run ads helping vulnerable Democratic senators targeted by Republicans, while also supporting Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, who would replace Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada if chamber control shifts.
The council, which reported $111.2 million in revenues on its 2012 tax documents, often consults with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce when deciding where to put up television ads. Like the chemistry council, the chamber traditionally supports pro- business candidates of both parties, yet so far this year its television advertising has exclusively backed Republicans.
The early advertising comes as the council intensifies its lobbying in Washington. It spent a record $12.3 million to influence the federal government in 2013, up 35 percent from $9.1 million in 2012.
Its advocacy focused on dozens of issues and bills related to chemicals, energy, homeland security, taxes and transportation, according to disclosure reports. In addition to energy policy, Dooley said his organization wants to amend the Toxic Substance Control Act. The industry backs a bill, sponsored by Sens. Tom Udall, D-N.M., and David Vitter, R-La., that may pre-empt state restrictions of air or water release of chemicals.
One beneficiary of the ads is Idaho Rep. Mike Simpson, who is grappling with a May Republican primary challenge from Bryan Smith, a lawyer backed by the Club for Growth, a Washington-based group aligned with the limited-government tea party movement.
Simpson and Republican Sen. Mike Crapo have worked to "grow our economy and expand domestic energy production and create good Idaho jobs," a narrator says in an ad that ran 367 times in the Boise area through March 17, CMAG data show.
"He has provided leadership over the regulatory environment in an efficient way that doesn't stifle manufacturers and chemical manufacturers," Dooley said of Simpson.
A 30-second council spot for Democratic Sen. Mark Begich of Alaska says he has helped "expand Alaskan oil and gas production to grow our economy and create good-paying Alaskan jobs."
The council also has run ads promoting Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, a West Virginia Republican favored to win the Senate seat of a retiring Democrat; Rep. John Barrow, a Georgia Democrat who sometimes bucks party leaders in a district that opposed Obama's re-election; Rep. Lee Terry, a Nebraska Republican re-elected with 51 percent of the vote in 2012; and Rep. Rodney Davis, an Illinois Republican who thwarted a March 18 primary challenge from Erika Harold, a Harvard-educated lawyer and former Miss America.
The council's political committee donations have favored Republicans over Democrats by 61 percent to 39 percent in the 2014 election, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, a nonpartisan Washington-based research group.