Conservatives’ Ads Helping GOP on Immigration

A conservative group is joining business leaders in sponsoring TV ads that seek to tamp down Republican jitters over a Senate immigration bill and build support among GOP lawmakers for the measure.

The conservative American Action Network plans to spend $300,000 over the next week for ads on the Fox News network featuring Republican Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida. The ad’s message: The current immigration system is broken. Fixing it won’t be easy. But there are ways to do it that would be tough and enforceable.

The ad mirrors one that aired last week by a group funded in part by Facebook Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg and other tech leaders, including Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates, who are among a growing contingent of wealthy donors lining up to support an immigration overhaul.

Another group, the National Immigration Forum Action Fund, said this week that it had received a six-figure donation from hedge-fund billionaire Paul Singer to promote a comprehensive immigration deal. Executive Director Ali Noorani said the money would be used to recruit grass-roots supporters in states across the country.

The American Action Network ad features Mr. Rubio making a case for legislation he helped write as part of a bipartisan group of senators known as the Gang of Eight. The bill, which promises to tighten border security while opening a route to citizenship for those in the U.S. illegally, has come under attack from conservative talk-radio hosts, conservative groups such as the Heritage Foundation and Mr. Rubio’s GOP colleagues.

The ads focus on the enforcement side of the legislation and lay out the many steps anyone here illegally would have to go through to win citizenship.

“They’re going to have to wait 13 years,” Mr. Rubio says in the newest ad, set to begin airing on Fox Wednesday night. “They’re going to have to pay fines. They’re going to have to learn English. They’re going to have to work. They’re going to have to wait at the back of the line.”

Fox News is part of News Corp, which also owns The Wall Street Journal.

A recent Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll found that 73% of Republicans support a comprehensive immigration deal once they hear the proposed list of steps that someone in the U.S. illegally must take in order to obtain citizenship.

“There is a lot of clutter out there on immigration reform,” said American Action Network spokesman Dan Conston. “We believe there are key components in this legislation that conservatives should embrace.”

The American Action Network was founded in 2010 by former Minnesota Sen. Norm Coleman and longtime GOP donor and activist Fred Malek. Through an offshoot group, the Hispanic Leadership Network, the group has recruited and supported Republican Hispanic candidates.

Groups fighting the Gang of Eight bill say they are feeling outgunned. “It is hard fighting the billionaires,” said Roy Beck, who directs NumbersUSA, a group that seeks to stem the flow of immigrants into the U.S. “There is no way we can fight them dollar for dollar.”

Mr. Beck’s group has so far run narrower ads targeting Sens. Lindsey Graham, a Republican from South Carolina, and Mark Begich, a Democrat from Alaska, two proponents of a federal immigration overhaul who are seeking re-election next year

Many high-tech companies have rallied behind the Senate bill, which would allow a higher number of skilled foreign workers to enter the country. The Zuckerberg-backed group has moved to defend Messrs. Graham and Begich. Mr. Zuckerberg’s political group,, says it is nonpartisan and employs strategists from both parties.

One ad running in South Carolina seeks to defend Mr. Graham from a GOP primary challenge, though it never mentions immigration. Instead, it casts Mr. Graham as an opponent of other elements of President Barack Obama’s agenda.

In the ad, Mr. Graham is seen denouncing “seedy Chicago politics”—Mr. Obama is from Chicago—and mocking the president’s 2008 presidential campaign slogan. “If this is change we can believe in, count me out,” Mr. Graham says in a news clip featured in the video. He is up for re-election in 2014.

Another ad backing Mr. Begich also appears aimed at boosting his standing with Republicans. It touts his support for oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and a balanced-budget amendment. “Call Mark Begich and thank him for putting Alaska’s future first,” the ad says.

People close to the lawmakers said they are happy to have the extra political cover.


A version of this article appeared on The Wall Street Journal, with the headline: Conservatives’ Ads Pressure GOP on Immigration.

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