Kelly Ayotte’s Independent Streak Brings Criticism From Conservative Billionaires

At a rally with Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders in September, Gov. Maggie Hassan went on the attack against Republican rival Kelly Ayotte in the race for U.S. Senate. She said the incumbent senator has sided with billionaires Charles and David Koch 90 percent of the time.

It’s a talking point that Hassan likes to use over and over again. She has said it in an ad, she says it rallies and she even said it at the first debate in North Conway on September 30.

“In her [Ayotte’s] first four years of office, she has voted with the Koch brothers 90 percent of the time,” Hassan said.

But a look at Ayotte’s voting record proves differently, showing she has behaved independently and has done so at some personal detriment of not getting Koch support.

The Koch brothers are well-known in politics, and their financial backing helped found Americans for Prosperity, an advocacy group spending million on Republican candidates around the country.

They have never held public office before, but they pick and choose the candidates who align with their beliefs of limited government, low taxes and less regulation to give them money in elections. If a Republican does not cast votes in office that fit that model, then they are in jeopardy of not receiving significant financial backing during their reelection against Democratic challengers.

Politifact found Hassan’s claim to be “half-true.” Hassan’s campaign points to AFP’s scorecard, which ranks lawmakers votes for economic freedom in each session.

In the 2011-2012 session, Ayotte received an 89 percent score from AFP since she voted for bills to reduce spending, to approve the Keystone XL pipeline and against increasing taxes on oil and gas companies.

In the 2013-2014 session, she received a 90 percent score. For those first four years, when averaged together, the scores would come to 89.5 percent or rounded to 90 percent.

However, Hassan’s camp left out Ayotte’s recent score for the 2015-2016 legislative session, where she received a 70 percent rating.

The Koch brothers do not play any role in creating the AFP scorecard, and while Ayotte has supported legislation that fits with Koch standards, she has also taken votes and performed actions that would go against their wishes.

For example, her campaign had a table at the University of New Hampshire recently where they were distributing free condoms to publicize her plan on getting over-the-counter birth control legislation passed. Ayotte also wanted to push back against the typical campaign narrative that only Democrats care about women’s rights.

Ayotte was also the first Republican senator to support President Barack Obama’s Clean Power Plan, a cornerstone of his legacy on climate change, which would give more authority to the Environmental Protection Agency to mandate rules and regulations on states to reduce carbon emissions.

The Republican senator touts her support of other policies to protect the environment, such as being one of five Republicans voting to protect New Hampshire from out-of-state pollution and voting against a resolution limiting the EPA’s ability to regulate mercury emissions.

Ayotte also takes a position on gun control that strikes a nerve with Second Amendment rights advocates. She supports legislation that would prevent suspected terrorists on the No Fly List from purchasing a gun, while ensuring due process rights for Americans who believe they are mistakenly on the watchlist.

She has been named one of the most bipartisan senators, willing to cross party lines, and work on legislation that she believes is right for the people in New Hampshire — like introducing bills to end gender wage discrimination and supporting LGBT rights by ensuring that all legally married same-sex couples have equal access to Social Security and veterans benefits.

Ayotte has also stood up to her party, especially if there is a looming government shutdown, by working with Democrats and Republicans in 2013 and 2015 to prevent essential government services from stopping, much to the ire of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.).

For many of these actions, Ayotte is one of the Republican lawmakers seeking reelection and not receiving any Koch support.

“[There are] no plans to change our position on Ayotte or get involved in the [New Hampshire] race,” said Levi Russell, spokesman for the AFP national group, in an email to InsideSources. “Given Ayotte’s support for Obama’s green energy agenda and corporate welfare, it’s ironic that she’s being attacked by billionaire and recent environmentalist Tom Steyer.”

Steyer’s group, NextGen Climate Action, sent out a mock press release in September suggesting that Ayotte has shown “steadfast support for [Republican presidential nominee Donald] Trump’s candidacy and their shared policy priorities” and also saying they will have someone dressed as Trump follow her around New Hampshire as she campaigns.

Although AFP is not airing ads on Ayotte’s behalf this year, David and Julia Koch and Koch Industries’ political action committee contributed a combined $17,300 to Ayotte in 2015.

Trump is another person who is reportedly not receiving any Koch money for his presidentail campaign against Clinton, the Democratic nominee. While Ayotte has previously supported, but not endorsed the Republican nominee, after a video released last week showing Trump making lewd comments about women, Ayotte said on Saturday that she will not be voting for Trump in November.

“I cannot vote for Donald Trump based on what he has said and done and the actions he has talked about in those tapes and I want my daughter to know that,” Ayotte said. “That is more important than winning any election.”

She said she “would support” Trump pulling out of the race, and she will write in Mike Pence, the GOP vice presidential nominee, for President.

Hassan’s campaign called Ayotte’s change of heart as a “political calculation,” but it does fit in with Ayotte’s mold of striving to be an independent voice for New Hampshire, something exhibited by her votes in the Senate, which has cost her in terms of support from a well-funded Republican group.

In an already close race and one of the most expensive Senate races in the country, it remains to be seen if Ayotte’s independent streak is enough to hold on to her seat, which could decide which party controls the Senate. It helps bring her voting record more in line with the electorate, but it costs her funding from Washington outside groups in a battle to outspend Hassan.

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Author: Kyle Plantz

Kyle Plantz is a reporter with NH Journal.

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