Rove urges do­na­tions to non-GOP at­tack groups

The Washington Times Weekly - - Politics -

Po­lit­i­cal strate­gist Karl Rove, freed of his White House role, is en­cour­ag­ing ma­jor Repub­li­can donors to give their money to or­ga­ni­za­tions that op­er­ate in­de­pen­dently of the Repub­li­can Party and are poised to spend up­wards of $100 mil­lion try­ing to elect con­ser­va­tives this fall.

Mr. Rove, the ar­chi­tect of Pres­i­dent Bush’s elec­tion vic­to­ries, has been telling Re p u b l i c a n bene­fac­tors across the coun­try that giv­ing to of­fi­cial Repub­li­can Party fundrais­ing com­mit­tees will not be enough this year, ac­cord­ing to peo­ple fa­mil­iar with his pitch over the past few months.

They said Mr. Rove has reg­u­larly ex­pressed con­cern that Democratlean­ing or­ga­ni­za­tions such as MoveOn.org and la­bor unions could swamp the Repub­li­can Party’s money ma­chine and over­whelm the pres­i­den­tial cam­paign of Sen. John McCain, Ari­zona Repub­li­can.

To counter that wave, Mr. Rove has been ask­ing elite Repub­li­can fundrais­ers to pour their mil­lions of dol­lars into non­party groups like Free­dom’s Watch, which is gear­ing up to spend tens of mil­lions of dol­lars to help elect con­ser­va­tives — pri­mar­ily Repub­li­cans — to Congress and the White House.

Free­dom’s Watch has pur­chased ad­ver­tise­ments that help Repub­li­can candidates by em­pha­siz­ing is­sues rather than the candidates and do so without co­or­di­nat­ing with the Repub­li­can Party.

In­de­pen­dent groups such as Free­dom’s Watch on the right and MoveOn.org Po­lit­i­cal Action on the left will fuel much of the on-air and on-the-ground skir­mish­ing this fall be­tween Demo­cratic and Repub­li­can candidates. Well-heeled donors of­ten pre­fer us­ing th­ese or­ga­ni­za­tions as con­duits for their con­tri­bu­tions be­cause they of­ten can re­main anony­mous and be­cause the groups’ ex­pen­di­tures are not dis­closed un­til af­ter they are made, if at all.

Mr. Rove de­clined to com­ment about his dis­cus­sions with Repub­li­can fundrais­ers.

But his spokesman, Mark Co­rallo, ac­knowl­edged that Mr. Rove, when asked, has en­cour­aged peo­ple to fill the cof­fers of groups that in ef­fect act as ad­juncts to the Repub­li­can Party.

The mes­sage, Mr. Co­rallo said, was: “Con­ser­va­tives, when in­ter­ested, ought to con­trib­ute gen­er­ously to groups that ad­vo­cate their goals.”

Mr. Rove has pushed Free­dom’s Watch in par­tic­u­lar, said sev­eral peo­ple who have heard him make the case. He has told donors that he trusts the two long­time Repub­li­can op­er­a­tives run­ning the or­ga­ni­za­tion.

One is Ex­ec­u­tive Vice Pres­i­dent Carl Forti, who is the for­mer po­lit­i­cal di­rec­tor of the pres­i­den­tial cam­paign of Mitt Rom­ney and the for­mer com­mu­ni­ca­tions di­rec­tor of the Na­tional Repub­li­can Con­gres­sional Com­mit­tee. The other is Ex­ec­u­tive Vice Pres­i­dent Tony Feather, who was po­lit­i­cal di­rec­tor for Mr. Bush’s 2000 pres­i­den­tial cam­paign and is a found­ing part­ner in FLS-DCI, a con­sult­ing firm for cor­po­ra­tions and po­lit­i­cal candidates.

Mr. Rove is not paid by Free­dom’s Watch, but none­the­less has spo­ken highly of its ef­forts when asked by Repub­li­can mon­ey­men where they should put their con­tri­bu­tions this fall, said peo­ple close to the for­mer White House strate­gist.

The re­sult has been an uptick in con­tri­bu­tions to Free­dom’s Watch.

“It has raised our pro­file, and his con­fi­dence in the op­er­a­tion has helped le­git­imize it in the minds of po­ten­tial donors,” a Free­dom’s Watch of­fi­cial said.

The group spent $17 mil­lion last year, ac­cord­ing to its lat­est pub­lic dis­clo­sure, and has spent about $20 mil­lion in to­tal, a spokesman said.

Free­dom’s Watch has be­gun to con­cern some Democrats, with its large bankroll and plan to play in mul­ti­ple mar­kets with hard-hit­ting at­tacks.

Rep. Chris Van Hollen of Mary­land, chair­man of the House Democrats’ fundrais­ing com­mit­tee, ac­cused Repub­li­cans of hav­ing “es­sen­tially con­tracted out to Free­dom’s Watch” to do their fundrais­ing and at­tack ads.

“There are th­ese shad­owy groups out there who can spend an un­lim­ited amount of un­ac­count­able money,” Mr. Van Hollen said Thurs­day in an in­ter­view with The Wash­ing­ton Times. “That is what ‘Free­dom’s Watch’ is geared up to do.”

Mr. Rove also has rec­om­mended that donors with strong pro-life po­si­tions on abor­tion give money to the Na­tional Right to Life Com­mit­tee. The com­mit­tee de­clined to com­ment.

Repub­li­cans have been at a dis­ad­van­tage on the money front through much of this elec­tion cy­cle. Demo­cratic candidates for pres­i­dent, the House and the Se­nate have out­raised their Repub­li­can coun­ter­parts.

The Demo­cratic re-elec­tion com­mit­tee in the House has raised $109 mil­lion, $29 mil­lion more than the Repub­li­can com­mit­tee. In the Se­nate, the Demo­cratic com­mit­tee has col­lected $93 mil­lion com­pared with $59 mil­lion by its Repub­li­can coun­ter­part.

Only at the na­tional com­mit­tee level do Repub­li­cans top Democrats. The Repub­li­can Na­tional Com­mit­tee has raised $457 mil­lion com­pared with $417 mil­lion by the Demo­cratic Na­tional Com­mit­tee, ac­cord­ing to the Cen­ter for Re­spon­sive Pol­i­tics.

Demo­cratic pres­i­den­tial nom­i­nee Barack Obama is so con­fi­dent that the trend will con­tinue and that he will bring in large amounts of money that he has de­clined to take pub­lic fund­ing for his gen­eral elec­tion bid. Mr. McCain, on the other hand, will ac­cept and stick to the $84 mil­lion that the fed­eral gov­ern­ment is of­fer­ing.

Mr. Obama’s sup­port­ers ex­pect that he will raise and spend much more than $84 mil­lion this fall. His own funds will be sup­ple­mented by sev­eral ef­forts that will to­tal hun­dreds of mil­lions of dol­lars.

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