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New ad hits Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin for 'peaceful' Jan. 6 claim

A coalition of progressive groups is spending $800,000 on a campaign criticizing the GOP senator for his comments about the Capitol riot.
Senate Homeland Security Confirmation Hearing
Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., during a Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs hearing in Washington on Thursday.Tom Williams / CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images

A coalition of more than 20 prominent progressive groups and unions is launching an ad campaign slamming Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., for his response to the Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol and his vote against federal voting rights legislation.

The groups are spending $800,000 on a 30-second television spot and print ad campaign, which kicked off Sunday.

The coalition includes the NAACP, the Sierra Club, the Planned Parenthood Action Fund, the Working Families Party and the National Education Association labor union. Called Democracy for All 2021 Action, the coalition advocates for federal voting legislation, Washington, D.C., statehood and campaign finance reform. Its first major ad campaign, a million-dollar buy in April, promoted the For the People Act in three states and Washington, D.C.

"You're failing us, Sen. Johnson. Protecting our democracy has never been partisan, and yet you refused to investigate the deadly attack on our Capital," the ad begins.

It contrasts images of rioters smashing windows at the Capitol with a brief clip of Johnson saying, "By and large it was peaceful protest."

His full comments, made on Fox News in May, were: "By and large it was all, it was peaceful protest, except for there were a number of people, basically agitators, that whipped the crowd and breached the Capitol. And you know, that's really the truth of what's happening here."

Wisconsin Democrats are lining up to challenge Johnson for his seat next year; he hasn't yet said whether he's running for re-election.

The ad also criticizes him for his role in blocking the For the People Act, Democrats' sweeping election and campaign overhaul bill, which would have required all states to offer early voting.

"Access to the polls matters to all Americans, and yet you blocked voter protections that have the support of Democrats, Republicans and independents," the narrator says.

Johnson and other Republicans united to filibuster the legislation last month, keeping it from moving forward in the Senate.

The ad will air on local broadcast news and sports programs and national cable news networks, including MSNBC, as well as "Fox News Sunday" and CBS' "Face the Nation," in Washington, D.C., on July 25.

In an emailed statement, Johnson said: "Democrats want to consolidate control over government and our lives. For the People Act has nothing to do with voting rights. The Jan 6 commission proposed by Democrats would not have investigated the failure of congressional leadership to provide adequate security for the Capitol. Democrats are not healing or unifying our nation. They are pushing false narratives to further their own radical agenda."

Becky Pringle, president of the National Education Association, said in an interview that Johnson was undermining democracy and that his vote against a commission to investigate the riot was "unconscionable."

"This is an existential crisis for this country," she said. "As educators, we are going to do everything we possibly can to elect leaders who will support and defend our democracy, who will support our system of public education, who will defend our students."

A print version of the ad will run in 10 newspapers, including the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and the Star Tribune of Minneapolis.

"The only thing Ron Johnson is willing to protect is his own power," the ad reads, urging voters to call his D.C. office. "Who's Johnson working for? You or himself?"