As Impeachment Draws Near, Rallies Counter Conservative Advertising

Dec 17, 2019

Pro-impeachment rallies are scheduled for Tuesday evening across Southwestern Pennsylvania – just hours before a US House vote on impeaching President Trump will take place on Wednesday. The effort will offer a response to anti-impeachment messages broadcast by Republican groups in recent months.

“We want there to be a very public face for impeachment,” said organizer Elaine Giarusso, who is leading a Tuesday-night rally at the Mt. Lebanon district office of US Rep. Conor Lamb. Lamb, a moderate Democrat, has said he will vote to impeach Trump.

“We want people to know that there is large support for the articles of impeachment that have been brought by the Democrats,” Giarusso said. “We also want people to know that we appreciate Conor Lamb for taking the stand that he has to uphold the Constitution and the law, despite the potential political fallout from it.”

Pro-impeachment events will also take place at the City-County Building in downtown Pittsburgh, and the courthouses in Washington, Westmoreland and Beaver counties. The Western Pennsylvania rallies are part of a coordinated national effort by the left-leaning group MoveOn. 

“This is an action to support impeachment and call for [Trump’s] removal in the Senate,” said Tracy Baton who is organizing the Downtown Pittsburgh rally. “If [the Senate] votes against it, they’re voting against Americans.”

Until now, foes of impeachment have spoken the loudest -- at least in terms of paid media. In the weeks leading up to Wednesday’s impeachment vote, conservative groups have spent more than $80,000 on local television ads to target Lamb.

FCC public files show the conservative group American Action Network bought airtime attacking Lamb on local TV stations KDKA, WTAE, and WPGH. The ads began in mid-November and ran at least through the first week of December. American Action Network is a 501(c)4 entity, a category of organization often referred to as “dark money” groups because they aren’t required to disclose their donors.

The National Republican Congressional Committee also spent several thousand dollars on TV ad buys in November, records show.

Lamb’s support for impeachment is also the subject of nearly 100 current conservative political ads on Facebook this week alone.

Meanwhile, FCC public files showed no local ad buys for pro-impeachment efforts. Democratic insiders say their side is keeping its powder dry, partly because they think issues like health care will be more decisive than impeachment when voters go to the polls next fall.

Lamb told WESA last week he planned to vote to impeach Trump, saying the articles of impeachment “were pretty carefully written, and they match the evidence that I’ve spent a lot of time reviewing.”

The spending has come in the lead-up to Wednesday’s historic vote, in which the Democratic-controlled House is expected to impeach President Trump for abuse of power and obstruction of Congress. 

It’s not clear how much impact the advertisements will have. Lamb was subjected to a barrage of negative ads during his 2018 special-election campaign, but still won a seat in Congress. And insiders say the amounts spent locally on impeachment are more a warning shot than an attempt to sink Lamb immediately.

“You’re not going to change any outcomes with a modest ad buy in 2019,” said Chris Borick, director of the Muhlenberg College Institute of Public Opinion. “What you’re doing is trying to prime the pump a little bit ... starting to set the parameters of the race in 2020. But it’s part of the bigger puzzle of 2020.”

Pennsylvanians remain sharply divided on impeachment, Borick said. “For the vast majority of Pennsylvanians who have their opinions established on President Trump, impeachment just reinforces -- rather than changes -- opinion.”