The American Action Network generally produces attack ads against Democrats. Which makes this latest ad campaign a bit surprising.
The group's new ads on TV, radio, mail and online praise 76 sitting Republican members of Congress, many from safe districts, for their recent votes for budget and Medicare bills.
The American Action Network may or may not ring a bell for you, but it's the source of many political attack ads that have targeted Democrats in election season. The group was founded by former Republican Sen. Norm Coleman after his defeat in 2008 by Democrat Al Franken.
Now the group is launching a new initiative to defend Republicans against criticism from the party's right flank.
When asked about the purpose of the ads, Coleman said Republicans need to stop thinking and acting like a pure opposition party.
"Our vision is to create and sustain a governing, conservative majority," he said.
Coleman, now also a Washington lobbyist whose clients include Airbus and Saudi Arabia, used variations of that phrase, "governing, conservative majority," dozens of times during a 15-minute interview.
Steven Schier, a political science professor at Carleton College, said the American Action Network is stepping in to support House Speaker John Boehner at a time when other outside groups on the Republican side are pushing members to vote against many of the GOP leadership's bills.
"What they're trying to do is counter-balance that with positive and negative messages that will, they hope, move the Republican Party towards competent, mainstream governance as they define it," Schier said.
The American Action Network has spent $3.3 million on ads since January — all aimed at Republicans. By comparison, the group spent $11 million during the 2014 elections. Its beneficiaries have included U.S. Rep. Tom Emmer, R-Minn., who's taken flak from his tea party supporters for some of his votes.
Some of the money has also been spent on tough ads directed at fellow Republicans who were in favor of shutting down the Department of Homeland Security over President Obama's executive actions on immigration.
Schier said the message of that ad should be loud and clear to House Republicans. "Their negative ads that target the most conservative members are telling those members that they are being watched by people with political resources who can make life difficult for them," he said.
Coleman said one of the American Action Network's goals is prevent another government shutdown that would harm the GOP's standing with voters ahead of next year's presidential elections. "Shutting down the government is not a good thing," he said. "It's not a good thing for conservatives. We take the blame for that."
And he insisted the ads have nothing to do with conservative outside groups such as the Club for Growth and Heritage Action: "We're not looking to pick fights with anybody."
Those groups don't necessarily see things the same way. Dan Holler, a spokesperson for Heritage Action, an arm of the conservative Heritage Foundation, said Coleman's group is clearly stepping into the factional fight underway within the GOP. "It looks like they're trying to bloody up conservatives for a potential primary challenge," he said.
He questioned the American Action Network's conservative credentials. Coleman's group isn't required to disclose its donors, but IRS records show donations from trade associations representing the oil and pharmaceutical industries.
Holler said the American Action Network is merely an arm of big business interests looking to curry favor with Republican leaders, rather than an expression of what GOP voters want. "It's not where the base of the party is, it's not where the power of the party comes from, it's not where the enthusiasm of the party comes from," he said.
Coleman rejected that criticism and said the House Republicans the American Action Network supports are committed to a pragmatic but conservative approach to governing that voters should know about.
"We think people deserve a pat on the back for that," Coleman said, "and we're in the position to do it, and that's what we're doing." He said Republicans have to move beyond their image as the party of "no," and that's what his group is trying to promote to voters.