- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 30, 2011

The National Republican Trust spent nearly $100,000 last year to help Scott Brown win the U.S. Senate seat of the late Edward M. Kennedy, Massachusetts Democrat, but now the conservative political group wishes it had that money back to help kick Mr. Brown out of office.

Saying the Republican senator is no different from a Democrat, the head of the group is calling for Mr. Brown to donate to charity or disgorge campaign money equal to how much the trust spent supporting him during the 2010 campaign.

The trust’s executive director, Scott Wheeler, said supporters knew Mr. Brown wasn’t going to be a die-hard conservative when they supported him early and often in his run against Martha Coakley, the Democratic state attorney general and once heavy favorite to succeed Mr. Kennedy.

But Mr. Wheeler said he and his group’s conservative backers are now disillusioned, citing Mr. Brown’s vote to ratify the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) with Russia, which the group sharply opposed.

“New START is something he should have been able to vote against,” Mr. Wheeler said.

Mr. Brown won the 2010 special election to fill out Mr. Kennedy’s term, which ends in January 2013, by a 52 percent to 47 percent margin. The trust spent $96,000 to help Mr. Brown pull off his upset win in the heavily Democratic state. It backed Mr. Brown early and encouraged donors across the country to give to his campaign directly.

The trust didn’t give the $96,000 directly to the Brown campaign, paying for and running ads backing his candidacy independently.

“We’d recommend that he take that money and spend it on a primary opponent who is more conservative,” Mr. Wheeler said.

But if conservatives who helped boost Mr. Brown’s profile now feel betrayed by his votes in the Senate, more liberal Massachusetts voters may not agree. A recent poll by Public Policy Polling in December found that Mr. Brown was leading potential Democratic challengers by 7 percent or more.

“Scott Brown is not going to be a pushover for Democrats in 2012,” Dean Debnam, president of Public Policy Polling, said in releasing the results.

Mr. Brown’s office wouldn’t respond directly to Mr. Wheeler’s criticisms of New START when reached Friday by The Washington Times, but a Boston-based political consultant for Mr. Brown defended the senator’s overall record.

“Over the past year, Scott Brown has done exactly what he said he was going to do, which is hold the line on higher taxes and wasteful spending and fight for pro-growth policies that get our economy moving again,” said the consultant, Eric Fehrnstrom.

“While no one is going to agree with his votes 100 percent of the time, Scott Brown’s record of fiscal restraint and responsibility falls in line with the views of Massachusetts voters.”

Maurice Cunningham, a political science professor at the University of Massachusetts at Boston, said Mr. Brown faces a far different campaign to retain his seat than his 2010 bid that captured the attention of the White House and the nation.

“Lightning doesn’t strike twice,” Mr. Cunningham said. “He can’t expect the same kind of attention and focus.”

Mr. Cunningham also said buyer’s remorse isn’t uncommon. He joked that if political donors asked for their money back every time they were disappointed, the banking system wouldn’t be able to handle all of the transactions.

Mr. Brown may have been relatively unknown early in his 2010 bid, but his victory boosted his national profile. He plans a national book tour for his autobiography, which is expected to be released soon, and will hold political fundraisers along the way.

An attorney for the Brown campaign recently asked federal election regulators for permission to use campaign cash to buy thousands of copies of Mr. Brown’s book to send supporters signed and unsigned copies as “thank you” gifts.

Mr. Wheeler is more interested in making sure the chapter on Mr. Brown’s Senate career is short.

“We would support someone to run against him in the primary,” Mr. Wheeler said, adding that the group’s early backing proved crucial for Mr. Brown in the special election. “If voters in Massachusetts had not seen how people across the nation rose up and supported him, he would not have been elected.”

• Jim McElhatton can be reached at jmcelhatton@washingtontimes.com.

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