“I’m a proponent of lots of money in politics and full disclosure in politics,” Mike Duncan, an American Crossroads board member, said in May during a panel discussion focusing partly on Republican plans for outside group spending in the midterm elections in the wake of a January Supreme Court decision allowing more corporate spending with less transparency.
American Crossroads, the non-profit group Duncan helps lead with assistance from Bush-era operatives Karl Rove and Ed Gillespie, had recently registered under a section of the tax code – 527 – that requires regular disclosure of its donors, primarily because of its founders’ commitment to “full accountability” and “transparency,” explained Duncan, a former Republican National Committee chairman. During the panel, Duncan recalled “when we had the board discussion, we talked about the fact that we were going to be ahead of the curve on this."
But, less than one month after the panel, with American Crossroads entering its fourth month of existence struggling to raise money from donors leery of having their names disclosed, the Crossroads operatives spun off a sister group called Crossroads Grassroots Policy Strategies (or Crossroads GPS, for short), which they registered under a different section of the tax code – section 501(c)4 – that does not require donor disclosure.
With the Crossroads fundraising team, led by Rove, emphasizing to prospective donors the ability to give to Crossroads GPS anonymously, fundraising took off.
Many of the conservative groups say they have been trading information through weekly strategy sessions and regular conference calls. They have divided up races to avoid duplication, the groups say, and to ensure that their money is spread around to put Democrats on the defensive in as many districts and states as possible — and, more important, lock in whatever gains they have delivered for the Republicans so far.
“We carpet-bombed for two months in 82 races, now it’s sniper time,” said Rob Collins, president of American Action Network, which is one of the leading Republican groups this campaign season and whose chief executive is Norm Coleman, the former senator from Minnesota. “You’re looking at the battle field and saying, ‘Where can we marginally push — where can we close a few places out?’ ”
Democrats said the conservative groups were upending some of their best-laid plans in several important races, like here in Florida, especially those in which they had been counting on the financial advantages their candidates had over lesser-financed Republicans at the beginning of the general election.
Working from color-coded master spreadsheets — one of which was obtained by The New York Times — the conservative groups are now closely monitoring polling in 80 House races that they judge crucial to ensuring a Republican majority. Based on those results, the groups have started to place their final advertising bets in ways carefully coordinated to fill openings left by the more financially limited official party and candidate committees.
In several cases, officials with the outside groups said, they intend to force Democrats to spend money in districts they presumed safe; in others, they said they would wipe out financial advantages Democratic incumbents were counting on to stave off strong challenges from underfinanced opponents.
“We’re going to continue to have a very strong presence on the Senate and in each of the key House races where we’ve played a big role,” said Steven Law, the president of American Crossroads and Crossroads GPS.
The groups, he said, are planning “an expansion of that effort, where we see holes and gaps.”