This post was originally published on the website of the Center for Public Integrity and is reposted on Grist with CPI’s kind permission.

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image An advocacy group run by a political operative with oil industry ties (and a famous photo-op history) is spearheading a late advertising blitz to sway Senate races, spending more than $650,000 in the last month to blast the Democratic candidates in Colorado and Kentucky, and to urge support for Republican incumbents in Mississippi.

The American Energy Alliance, which describes itself as a new nonprofit group dedicated to informing “policymakers that there is no such thing as a ‘free’ energy or environmental vote,” has outlined its new campaign in reports filed with the Federal Election Commission. The filing is required for ads that identify candidates by name in the weeks prior to an election.

The AEA is run by Thomas Pyle, who served as an aide to Republican powerhouse Tom DeLay when he was House Majority Whip. AEA is the “grassroots arm” of the Institute for Energy Research (also headed by Pyle), a nonprofit foundation that worked earlier this year to defeat climate change legislation. The Institute was represented by the Alexandria, Virginia-based public relations firm CRC Public Relations, which was also representing Chevron at the time.

Pyle was registered as a lobbyist for the National Petrochemical and Refiners Association earlier this year and for the refining and chemical company Koch Industries in 2007. But he is probably best known as the face in the front row of the “Brooks Brothers Riot” of young Republican House aides who stormed the Miami-Dade County polling headquarters at the height of the 2000 Bush-Gore post-election battle. Now Pyle is leading a new charge “to hold our leaders accountable as to whether or not they support market-oriented policies that lead to abundant, affordable, and reliable energy for American consumers,” says the group’s website.

Target one: Democratic Colorado Representative Mark Udall, who is leading former Representative Bob Schaffer, a Republican, in the race for the Senate seat being vacated by GOP Senator Wayne Allard. “Mark Udall’s votes helped create America’s energy and economic problems,” says a radio spot being run by AEA over the last week. Udall wants to raise taxes on energy companies, “squeezing our pension and 401(k) plans that are already reeling from bank failures and the mortgage disaster,” the ad says.

In Kentucky, AEA has begun airing radio spots about the “Lunsford tax,” attacking Democrat Bruce Lunsford, who polls show trailing in the race to unseat Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. The ads refer to Lunsford’s work 30 years ago, when, as a member of Governor John Brown’s administration, he urged the Kentucky legislature to pass a law that pegged the state’s gas tax to the value of the fuel rather than the number of gallons sold — a change that now adds 12 cents a gallon to the price of gas in the Bluegrass State for the state highway fund. “It is very nearly beyond belief that anyone today could be proud of making energy more expensive for working families. But Bruce Lunsford is,” said Pyle in a statement on AEA’s website. “That should serve as a warning to Kentuckians about what his approach on energy policy might be if he joins the U.S. Senate.”

AEA also has a positive message, at least about Republican Senators Thad Cochran and Roger Wicker of Mississippi. “Our senators fought to lift the congressional ban on offshore exploration and production, paving the way for new American energy,” says the radio ad. “Thank them for working to lift the offshore energy ban and tell them to fight against the forces that threaten to stop offshore exploration before it even starts.” Although Cochran is viewed as comfortably leading his Democratic challenger, Wicker is seen as facing a more difficult race to retain the seat he was appointed to by Governor Haley Barbour after Senate Minority Whip Trent Lott’s resignation last year. He faces former Democratic Mississippi Governor Ronnie Musgrove.

It’s not clear yet if AEA plans to make energy policy an issue in any other races, but in addition to the three states where it has already run ads, the organization lists Georgia, New Mexico, North and South Carolina as states where it maintains “chapters.”