At least 25 “super PACS,” including one linked to Karl Rove, are fueling a surge in money for this year’s elections following the U.S. Supreme Court ruling that struck down limits on corporate campaign spending.
These political action committees can take unlimited company, union and individual donations and explicitly urge voters to support or oppose candidates, unlike ordinary PACs and nonprofit groups. Like other PACs, they must register with the Federal Election Commission and disclose donors.
“They can say whatever they want politically in the advertising,” said Michael Toner, a former FEC chairman who’s among the lawyers dubbing them super PACs. “It’s very liberating.”
American Crossroads may be the biggest. Rove and former Republican National Committee Chairman Ed Gillespie serve as fundraisers and informal advisers for the group, headed by former Republican chairman Mike Duncan.
American Crossroads spent $454,342 last month to support Republican Rob Portman’s Ohio Senate bid. Its nonprofit arm released new ads on Sept. 2 as part of a $3 million buy targeting four Democrats: Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada, Senator Michael Bennet of Colorado and Senate nominees Jack Conway in Kentucky and Robin Carnahan in Missouri.
One of those 501(c)(4)s is Crossroads GPS, a spinoff of the new group American Crossroads, which was formed by former Bush officials Ed Gillespie and Karl Rove. The original group was registered under 527 of the tax code, which gave it far more discretion to spend its cash to directly advocate for or attack candidates — but required that its donors’ names be disclosed to the public.
Last month, Crossroads GPS spent $1 million in ads to bolster the candidacy of Republican Carly Fiorina in her race against Democratic incumbent Barbara Boxer. It spent an additional $1.2 million in Colorado against Democratic Sen. Michael Bennet, who is trying to hold onto his seat amid a fierce challenge from Republican Ken Buck. It spent nearly $800,000 in advertisements attacking policies supported by Reid, helping his opponent, Sharron Angle, in Nevada. It spent an additional $341,000 in Kentucky in the race between Republican Rand Paul and Democrat Jack Conway, and it dropped $1 million more in Missouri to defeat Democrat Robin Carnahan, who is facing GOP Rep. Roy Blunt. And it spent an additional $561,460 in the race between Republican Pat Toomey and Rep. Joe Sestak in Pennsylvania.
Jonathan Collegio, a spokesman for Crossroads GPS, said that the purpose of the nearly $5 million in advertisements last month was to “illuminate the legislative record of the senators we are focused on.” And he added that 501(c)(4)s exist on “all sides of the political spectrum … not just on the right.”
Indeed, Democratic-aligned organizations are registered under the 501(c) section of the tax code, like MoveOn.org, Center for American Progress and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.
But of those groups, only AFSCME spent cash on the airwaves for Senate Democratic candidates last month, with $535,000 in Missouri and $322,000 in Nevada. The biggest spender of ad buys from Democratic-allied third-party groups — not including the state and national parties — was the Patriot Majority, a 527 group that spent $911,000 in Nevada ad buys, mainly attacking Angle.