Republican super PACs and other outside groups shaped by a loose network of prominent conservatives – including Karl Rove, the Koch brothers and Tom Donohue of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce – plan to spend roughly $1 billion on November’s elections for the White House and control of Congress, according to officials familiar with the groups’ internal operations.
That total includes previously undisclosed plans for newly aggressive spending by the Koch brothers, who are steering funding to build sophisticated, county-by-county operations in key states. POLITICO has learned that Koch-related organizations plan to spend about $400 million ahead of the 2012 elections – twice what they had been expected to commit.
Just the spending linked to the Koch network is more than the $370 million that John McCain raised for his entire presidential campaign four years ago. And the $1 billion total surpasses the $750 million that Barack Obama, one of the most prolific fundraisers ever, collected for his 2008 campaign.
Restore Our Future, the super PAC supporting Mitt Romney, proved its potency by spending nearly $50 million in the primaries. Now able to entice big donors with a neck-and-neck general election, the group is likely to meet its new goal of spending $100 million more.
And American Crossroads and the affiliated Crossroads GPS, the groups that Rove and Ed Gillespie helped conceive and raise cash for, are expected to ante up $300 million, giving the two-year-old organization one of the election’s loudest voices.
“The intensity on the right is white-hot,” said Steven Law, president of American Crossroads and Crossroads GPS. “We just can’t leave anything in the locker room. And there is a greater willingness to cooperate and share information among outside groups on the center-right.”
In targeted states, the groups’ activities will include TV, radio and digital advertising; voter-turnout work; mail and phone appeals; and absentee- and early-ballot drives.
The $1 billion in outside money is in addition to the traditional party apparatus – the Romney campaign and the Republican National Committee – which together intend to raise at least $800 million.
The Republican financial plans are unlike anything seen before in American politics. If the GOP groups hit their targets, they likely could outspend their liberal adversaries by at least two-to-one, according to officials involved in the budgeting for outside groups on the right and left.
By contrast, Priorities USA Action, the super PAC supporting President Barack Obama’s reelection, has struggled to raise money, and now hopes to spend about $100 million. Obama’s initial reluctance to embrace such groups constrained fundraising on the Democratic side, which is now trying to make up for lost time.
Labor could add another $200 million to $400 million in Democratic backing.
The consequences of the conservative resurgence in fundraising are profound. If it holds, Romney and his allies will likely outraise and outspend Obama this fall, a once-unthinkable proposition. The surge has increased the urgency of the Democrats’ thus-far futile efforts to blunt the effects of a pair of 2010 federal court rulings – including the Supreme Court’s seminal Citizens United decision – that opened the floodgates for limitless spending, and prompted Obama to flip-flop on his resistance to super PACs on the left.
“We’re not making any attempt to match American Crossroads or any of those groups with television ads,” said Michael Podhorzer, political director for the AFL-CIO. Instead, much of labor’s money will be spent on talking directly with union members and other workers.
“Progressives can’t match all the money going into the system right now because of Citizens United, so we have to have a program that empowers the worker movement,” Podhorzer said.
Much of the public focus has been on how these outside groups will tilt the balance of power in fundraising at the presidential level. But POLITICO has learned that Republicans involved with the groups see the combined efforts playing out just as aggressively at the congressional level, in below-the-radar efforts designed to damage Democratic candidates for the House and Senate.
The officials said that if Romney looks weak in the final stretch, the vast majority of the money could be aimed at winning back the Senate. Republicans need four seats to do that, if Obama is re-elected.
Republicans have taken one big lesson away from campaigns conducted to date in 2011 and 2012: outside money can be the difference-maker in elections.
It was outside money from casino magnate Sheldon Adelson that single-handedly kept Newt Gingrich afloat against Romney. A super PAC spending surge fueled by Wyoming mutual fund guru Foster Friess was credited with powering Rick Santorum to an upset win in the Iowa caucuses. And outside money has helped lift tea party challengers past incumbents like Sen. Richard Lugar (R-Ind.) in this year’s primaries.
Restore Our Future, the pro-Romney super PAC, spent twice as much on the air as the campaign did in the thick of the primaries: Through March, the campaign had put $16.7 million into TV, while ROF shelled out $33.2 million.
In Florida, the super PAC outspent the campaign, $8.8 million to $6.7 million. (The campaign can get more spots per dollar because of more favorable rates.) In Michigan, it was $2.3 million to $1.5 million. In Ohio, ROF outspent the campaign, $2.3 million to $1.5 million.
Now Republicans are applying this approach – on steroids – to the remainder of the campaign:
—Groups affiliated with Charles and David Koch, the billionaire industrialists who are among the biggest behind-the-scenes players in Republican politics, will spend the most of any outside outfit on either side: roughly $395 million for issue and political advocacy by groups they support – twice the amount they previously had been expected to commit.
“People are energized because the future of our country and economy is at stake,” said an ally familiar with the Koch effort.
The flagship group in the Koch network is Americans for Prosperity, which gets about half its funds from other donors.
— American Crossroads and Crossroads Grassroots Policy Strategies (GPS) plan to do about two-thirds of their spending on advocacy related to the presidential race, and the rest relating to House and Senate races. Crossroads (a super PAC) was founded in April 2010, Crossroads GPS (a 501(c)4 non-profit group) started the next month.
—The U.S. Chamber of Commerce has a goal of $100 million, according to outsiders familiar with the plans. All of that will be focused on congressional races, with the House as the top priority – what organizers call “the first insurance policy” if Obama were to get reelected.
But the Chamber’s message, which includes attacks on Obama’s health-care plan, can be expected to help Romney in several states with competitive Senate races that are also presidential battlegrounds – Florida, Ohio, Virginia, New Mexico, Nevada and Wisconsin.
—The YG Action Fund, the super PAC started by aides of the two self-styled “Young Guns” – House Republican Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) and House Republican Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) — has a goal of raising about $30 million, including the YG Network.
—American Action Network, chaired by former senator Norm Coleman, raised about $30 million in the 2010 election cycle and is likely to try to at least match that amount in 2012, with most of that going toward congressional races.
—The Congressional Leadership Fund, a super PAC supported by Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and other House GOP leaders, has reported raising $5 million so far.
—The pro-Romney super PAC, Restore Our Future, is likely to raise $50 million to $100 million for the general election. “They saw that the spending worked before, and with the race this competitive, it will be even easier for them to raise money now,” said a source close to the group.
Charlie Spies, co-founder and counsel of Restore Our Future, said: “While there are multiple other groups doing important work to assist Republicans up and down the ticket, ROF is the only group dedicated solely to electing Mitt Romney, and targeting every dollar that we raise towards supporting him. ROF will spend our resources fighting back against the Obama team’s distortions and smears.”
—FreedomWorks, the Dick Armey-led tea party outfit that has backed challengers in GOP congressional primaries, is expected to spend $30 million or more on issue advocacy, campaign ads and organizing — between its super PAC and 501(c)4.
—The Republican Jewish Coalition, a 501(c)4 group that works closely with the Crossroads outfits and the American Action Network, plans to spend more than $6 million on “the largest, most expensive, most sophisticated outreach effort ever undertaken in the Jewish community,” according to a source familiar with its plans.
—Club for Growth plans spending in congressional races but does not reveal totals.
It’s important to step back for a moment to understand the currents racing through the money chase right now. Republicans, back in the era of soft money, dominated fundraising, thanks in large part to big business donors. But when soft money was outlawed in 2002, a lot of business donors got uneasy about feeding their money through outside groups. Many sat out. At the same time, liberals got into the business of using tax-exempt and other groups to build their own web of think tanks, media monitors, vote-trackers and advocacy groups to influence politics. Rich liberals such as George Soros and union leaders funded much of it.
By the time 2008 rolled around, Obama and the Democrats were rolling over Republicans in the race for campaign cash raised in limited chunks, and Obama largely discouraged big-money outside efforts. Things have changed rapidly – and, in some respects, radically — since then.
First, Citizens United made it easy and less risky for rich donors to get back in the game. Second, a subsequent lower court case paved the way for the creation of super PACs, giving mega-donors arguably the most effective vehicle for funding ads in the modern campaign finance era. Third and perhaps most important, Obama scared many free-market millionaires into action with what they perceive as his outright hostility to capitalism.