What McCain-Feingold did was ban large donations of “soft money” to the Republican and Democratic national committees. But the money didn’t dry up. For Democrats, it moved to independent organizations, like MoveOn.org, with no limits on fundraising. Now, at long last, Republicans have started groups of their own:
• American Crossroads. It aims to do for Republican candidates what MoveOn, the AFL-CIO, the Service Employees International Union, and Moving America Forward have done for Democrats for several cycles. The group was founded after donors to Republican and conservative causes were consulted to see if they were ready to make big contributions. The conclusion: They are. AC expects to raise around $50 million this year. It began operations last week. Its leader is Steve Law, a former deputy secretary of labor and a little-known but talented political strategist.
• American Action Network. This is a think tank founded two months ago and modeled after the Center for American Progress, which produces position papers and policy arguments for Democrats. It is run by former Republican senator Norm Coleman of Minnesota and fundraiser Fred Malek. AAN has a policy arm and an “action” unit run by Rob Collins, former chief of staff for House Republican whip Eric Cantor.
• Resurgent Republic. Founded last year, it is a Republican copy of Democracy Corps, the respected polling and research outfit run by Democrats Stanley Greenberg, James Carville, and Bob Shrum. RR is the creation of Whit Ayres, a leading Republican pollster, and Ed Gillespie, former Republican national chairman and a White House adviser to President George W. Bush. It does research, surveys, and focus groups to test issues and aid Republican candidates and officeholders.
• Republican State Leadership Committee. Gillespie recently became chairman of the freshly invigorated RSLC. Its aim is to support state legislative candidates, capture control of legislatures, and shape congressional redistricting based on the 2010 census in favor of Republicans. Its counterpart is the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee. RSLC’s fundraising goal in 2010 is $40 million.
Republicans and conservatives have a sad history with independent expenditure organizations. They’ve launched many of them in the past, only to see them go out of business after one election. This time, the four groups were conceived as permanent fixtures in politics.
Why no link for American Crossroads? A Washington Post article supplies a clue:
American Crossroads is "an independent, national grassroots political organization whose mission is to speak out in support of conservative issues and candidates across America," according to documents filed with the Internal Revenue Service. The group has already received commitments for more than $30 million in donations from wealthy contributors, and plans to spend more than $50 million on advocacy ads and other efforts aimed at influencing the November elections, according to Dyke and others.
Because it is organized as a so-called 527 group, American Crossroads is not governed by limits imposed by the Federal Election Commission and -- under an appeals court ruling last month -- is free to collect as much money as it wants from wealthy donors. Rick Hasen, an election law expert at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles, said the evidence suggests that American Crossroads will appeal primarily to large-scale donors rather than grass-roots contributors. The group's IRS form lists "no@email" as its e-mail address.
"Supposedly they've collected $30 million in promised money with no Web site and before they even really exist," Hasen said. "This is not based on mass appeal; it's a different model."