Cam­paign­ing out­side the GOP

In­de­pen­dent groups go their own way in spend­ing mil­lions to back con­ser­va­tives.

Los Angeles Times - - The Nation - Tom Ham­burger and Richard Simon re­port­ing from washington

As it drives to re­gain po­lit­i­cal power, the Repub­li­can Party de­pends on what goes on be­hind the closed doors of an aus­tere 12th-floor of­fice suite in down­town Washington.

The of­fice is marked only by a sign read­ing “Amer­i­can Cross­roads” and “Amer­i­can Ac­tion Net­work.” But be­hind the non­de­script en­trance is the head­quar­ters of a new po­lit­i­cal power: a fundrais­ing op­er­a­tion that has pulled in more than $32 mil­lion this year, as well as so­phis­ti­cated mar­ket­ing, re­search and ad­ver­tis­ing op­er­a­tions — all aimed at get­ting Repub­li­cans elected to the House and Se­nate.

The or­ga­ni­za­tions have been cre­ated out­side the of­fi­cial party ap­pa­ra­tus. They du­pli­cate al­most all the func­tions of the tra­di­tional GOP while of­ten tak­ing ad­van­tage of le­gal pro­vi­sions that al­low them to con­ceal the names of those who foot the bill.

Amer­i­can Cross­roads and its af­fil­i­ates are the off­spring of Ge­orge W. Bush ad­min­is­tra­tion strate­gist Karl Rove and other se­nior GOP lead­ers who once worked within the reg­u­lar party struc­ture, es­pe­cially the Repub­li­can Na­tional Com­mit­tee and its tra­di­tion-en­crusted head­quar­ters near the Capi­tol.

Other in­de­pen­dent groups — such as Amer­i­cans for Pros­per­ity and Free­domWorks — have sprung up with op­er­a­tions of­ten tai­lored closely to the wishes of their con­ser­va­tive sup­port­ers, some of them bil­lion­aire busi­ness­men. Cross­roads of­fi­cials say they work with more than 20 other con­ser­va­tive or­ga­ni­za­tions, in­clud­ing the U.S. Cham­ber of Com­merce and Amer­i­cans for Tax Re­form, to make sure money is spent ef­fec­tively.

Many of the new groups were formed af­ter the Supreme Court’s Cit­i­zens United de­ci­sion last year, which made it eas­ier for cor­po­ra­tions and unions to spend di­rectly on po­lit­i­cal causes. New groups formed on the left and right, but the dra­matic growth has been on the right.

Some, in­clud­ing Amer­i­can Cross­roads, or­ga­nized ini­tially un­der a pro­vi­sion of the tax code that re­quired them to dis­close their donors. Later, how­ever, Cross­roads added a non­profit af­fil­i­ate, Cross­roads GPS, that does not have to dis­close its donors. Cross­roads GPS, the U.S. Cham­ber of Com­merce and Amer­i­cans for Pros­per­ity do not dis­close the names of donors, and they are grow­ing rapidly.

On the Demo­cratic side, la­bor, en­vi­ron­men­tal and other al­lied groups have long worked on be­half of the party’s can­di­dates. But the Demo­cratic-lean­ing groups have usu­ally func­tioned as in­for­mal part­ners with the party or­ga­ni­za­tion, while this year’s con­ser­va­tive or­ga­ni­za­tions have largely re­jected the lead­er­ship of the Repub­li­can Na­tional Com­mit­tee and its Capi­tol Hill op­er­a­tions.

For many vet­er­ans of GOP pol­i­tics, the Repub­li­can Na­tional Com­mit­tee un­der its con­tro­ver­sial chair­man, Michael Steele, has been in­ef­fec­tive in fundrais­ing and pro­vid­ing man­power in bat­tle­ground races.

The new or­ga­ni­za­tions ap­pear to have stolen a march on the Democrats. Or­ga­nized la­bor and other Demo­cratic-lean­ing groups are only now run­ning com­mer­cials with sig­nif­i­cant cam­paign-re­lated mes­sages.

As of last week, more than twice as much had been spent on tele­vi­sion ads fa­vor­ing Repub­li­can can­di­dates as had been spent on ads for Democrats ($36 mil­lion to $16 mil­lion), ac­cord­ing to the Cam­paign Me­dia Anal­y­sis Group.

Amer­i­can Cross­roads and Cross­roads GPS have al­ready run mil­lions of dol­lars in ad­ver­tis­ing in nine Se­nate races in Cal­i­for­nia, Illi­nois, New Hamp­shire and other states. Washington state and Florida ad blitzes are likely to be an­nounced soon.

Cross­roads ex­pects to move heav­ily into more than two dozen House races, in­clud­ing those in Ohio, Penn­syl­va­nia, Florida and pos­si­bly Cal­i­for­nia.

Some of the $31.6 mil­lion raised by Rove and his al­lies for the Cross­roads groups also is go­ing into a grass­roots cam­paign net­work that prom­ises un­prece­dented co­or­di­na­tion with busi­ness and con­ser­va­tive groups, strate­gies to monitor new early vot­ing rules and a new data­base that will al­low pre­cise tar­get­ing of likely con­ser­va­tive vot­ers. It would then gen­er­ate 20 mil­lion phone calls and 40 mil­lion pieces of mail to get them to vote.

Steven Law, a Bush ad­min­is­tra­tion and cam­paign vet­eran, runs the Cross­roads groups. For­mer RNC Chair­man Mike Dun­can serves as Cross­roads board chair­man. In the same suite, Norm Cole­man, the for­mer Min­nesota sen­a­tor, runs Amer­i­can Ac­tion Net­work, which hopes to raise $25 mil­lion this year.

So far, the con­ser­va­tive groups have raised and spent more money than la­bor and the Democrats, even though the lat­ter went into the cam­paign sea­son with a clear fi­nan­cial ad­van­tage.

Democrats ac­knowl­edge that the in­de­pen­dent con­ser­va­tive groups are mak­ing a dif­fer­ence. A memo cir­cu­lat­ing among House Democrats shows that as of Sept. 14, out­side Repub­li­can groups had re­served air time for $22.4 mil­lion in ad­ver­tis­ing in key House races, com­pared with Demo­crat-aligned groups re­serv­ing just $3 mil­lion through mid-Octo-

ber for the same con­tests.

In Colorado, Amer­i­can Cross­roads, the Club for Growth and the U.S. Cham­ber of Com­merce spon­sored ads last week for Ken Buck, the Repub­li­can Se­nate can­di­date. Only one group, the Demo­cratic Sen­a­to­rial Cam­paign Com­mit­tee, was on the air for Demo­cratic Sen. Michael Ben­net.

In Ne­vada, Amer­i­can Cross­roads took credit for buoy­ing Repub­li­can Se­nate can­di­date Shar­ron An­gle, with ap­prox­i­mately $2 mil­lion in ads in her race against well-funded Se­nate Ma­jor­ity Leader Harry Reid.

“Our ads helped keep the race com­pet­i­tive af­ter the pri­mary when Reid was go­ing for an early knock­out,” Law said.

In Cal­i­for­nia, where Sen. Bar­bara Boxer has en­joyed a fundrais­ing ad­van­tage over Repub­li­can chal­lenger Carly Fio­r­ina, out­side groups have helped Fio­r­ina close the gap.

Boxer’s cam­paign man­ager, Rose Kapol­czyn­ski, said the out­side groups es­sen­tially pro­vided “$3 mil­lion in free ad­ver­tis­ing for the Fio­r­ina cam­paign” at a time when Fio­r­ina didn’t have the re­sources to go on the air her­self.

The an­tiabor­tion Su­san B. An­thony Fund plans to dou­ble the $3 mil­lion it spent na­tion­ally in 2008, in­clud­ing $1 mil­lion to de­feat Boxer. Al­ready Cross­roads GPS has aired $1 mil­lion worth of ad­ver­tis­ing. The U.S. Cham­ber of Com­merce plans to spend sev­eral mil­lion dol­lars against Boxer, and other con­ser­va­tive groups have made pledges as well.

“This is why this may last longer and be more com­pet­i­tive than Bar­bara Boxer’s pre­vi­ous races,” said po­lit­i­cal sci­ence pro­fes­sor Bruce Cain of UC Berkeley. “In the past, you could close out the op­po­si­tion by build­ing up a lead early on and then donors would stop giv­ing.”

Kapol­czyn­ski said the in­flux of out­side money has had an up­side in help­ing gal­va­nize Boxer’s sup­port­ers, par­tic­u­larly af­ter ads aired spon­sored by Cross­roads GPS, with its known ties to Rove.

“Karl Rove com­ing into Cal­i­for­nia to cam­paign against Boxer was a wakeup call to a lot of our sup­port­ers,” she said.

Jim Jor­dan, a for­mer di­rec­tor of the Demo­cratic Sen­a­to­rial Cam­paign Com­mit­tee, said spend­ing by the Repub­li­can-al­lied groups this year had led him and a group of other Democrats to form their own or­ga­ni­za­tion, Com­mon­sense Ten.

“Be­ing out­gunned six or seven or eight to one in in­de­pen­dent ex­pen­di­tures re­ally is a recipe for dis­as­ter, es­pe­cially in this po­lit­i­cal cli­mate,” Jor­dan said.

His group, which dis­closes its donors, is up with its first ads — in Mis­souri and Washington state. But it is a small start against Cross­roads and Cross­roads GPS, which plan to raise more than $50 mil­lion.

NEW STRAT­EGY:

Mark Wil­son

Karl Rove is among for­mer GOP in­sid­ers now work­ing out­side the party ap­pa­ra­tus. He’s a heavy backer of the Amer­i­can Cross­roads groups.

Elec­tion spend­ing

Third-party or­ga­ni­za­tions are play­ing a big­ger role in elec­tion spend­ing than in pre­vi­ous years. Here are some of the lead­ing play­ers, based on an­nounced or pub­lished cam­paign spend­ing tar­gets:

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