WASHINGTON — Sen. Lindsey Graham is the first target of a new broadcast ad campaign from an anti-immigration reform group with reported ties to the white nationalist movement.
The minute long radio ad campaign by ProEnglish, comes at a particularly bad time for opponents of comprehensive reform: last week the Heritage Foundation was forced to sack a researcher for his racially tinged comments about Latinos and there are growing questions about the anti-reform movement's connections to radical population growth groups.
And with the Senate considering comprehensive reform legislation now, the group's ad — which features a Spanish-speaking "illegal immigrant" character "thanking" Graham for "for not requiring him to learn English in exchange for amnesty" — could further complicate the efforts of more more mainstream conservatives.
But at least for now, the group isn't backing down.
"ProEnglish will run the ad in South Carolina for as long as it takes to get the message out," said spokesman Phil Kent. In fact, Kent said the ad campaign might expand beyond South Carolina.
"If we feel if this is successful we may target senators in other states," he said.
Graham isn't responding to the message of the ad.
"South Carolina remains the central battlefield in the fight over immigration reform," said Kevin Bishop, a Graham spokesperson.
ProEnglish is led by Robert Vandervoort, who caused a stir in 2012 when he was invited to speak at a CPAC immigration panel despite his "past ties to the white nationalist group Chicagoland Friends of American Renaissance," as it was described in contemporary media reports. American Renaissance warns against "Multiculturalism and the War Against White America" and "The War on White Heritage" on its website.
Ardent reform opponents steer clear of Vandervoort. Republican Kansas Sec. of State Kris Kobach — architect of the controversial immigration laws in Arizona and Alabama — distanced himself from the ProEnglish leader after appearing on the CPAC panel with him.
The group shrugs off critics who call it racist. "As for dishonest opponents, we choose to ignore smears and lies," Kent said.