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SALT LAKE CITY -- New political ads are running in Utah, praising both Senators Orrin Hatch and Mike Lee on recent budget policies.
"More than $14 trillion in debt and counting, government gone wrong, but two Utah conservatives are leading the fight in Washington to get spending under control," the ad says.
The 30 second TV spot started running last week, praising both Hatch and Lee for backing a proposed Balanced Budget Amendment to the Constitution.
"They're an independent expenditure, so I have no knowledge of them being run. We weren't forewarned," said Hatch campaign manager Dave Hansen. "All of the sudden they showed up. I think they're pretty good ads to be honest with you."
The ad was paid for by FreedomPath, a 501(c)(4) organization, linked to a lobbyist and former Chief of Staff to ex-Nevada Senator John Ensign, named Jeffery Scott Bensing, who filed paperwork with the FEC to create the ad. A message left with Bensing's office in Reno was not returned.
The ad comes as Hatch finds himself defending his conservative credentials against recent ads by the national conservative group Club for Growth, who have criticized Hatch for not being conservative enough.
"What's he done about our debt?" the Club for Growth ad says. Hatch battled back, telling a Fox News analyst: "You've to look at 35 years here in the Senate. And by any measure, I'm considered one of the top conservatives in the history of this country."
Democrats say they could be provided with an opening thanks to in-fighting between the Tea Party and establishment conservatives.
"Sen. Hatch needs to get to that extreme part of the party in order to get the nomination," said newly elected Utah Democratic Chair Jim Dubakis. "And in order to do that, he is cozying up to Sen. Lee."
Watchdog groups say recent federal court decisions opened the floodgate to spending by outside groups, with little ability for the public to trace the money funding the ads.
"There is so much money that these court rulings have opened the door to that we're going to see it just flooding the airwaves way earlier than before," said Editorial Director of Sunlight Foundation Bill Allison.
With the increased amount of ads circulating the airwaves nearly a year and a half before voters cast their ballots, watchdog groups are warning that the recent attack ads could be just the beginning, which is the latest indication that Hatch's reelection campaign will be a battle.
Sen. Lee said he "doesn't have a comment on the ads."