Coleman’s operation will be running plenty of TV ads, too. Organizers confirmed reports that AAN and the Congressional Leadership Fund have reserved $3 million apiece on candidate advocacy ads in targeted House races. In the 2010 elections, the group spent $21 million on campaign ads and election-time candidate messages, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, making it one of the top three nonparty outside spenders that year.
This time, the group appears to be on track to spend even more, thanks in part to Coleman’s quiet tenacity as a fundraiser. Elected to the Senate in 2002 following a stint as the mayor of St. Paul, Coleman lost his re-election bid to Democrat Al Franken after a bitterly contested recount in what turned out to be the Senate’s most costly race.
“I think he’s a beloved figure in the donor community [of] Republicans and conservatives who are willing to make contributions to the cause,” said Mark Isakowitz, president of Fierce, Isakowitz & Blalock. A Romney campaign bundler, Isakowitz serves with Coleman on the board of the Republican Jewish Coalition, whose board also includes several top GOP super PAC and Republican Party donors such as casino mogul Sheldon Adelson, financier Lewis Eisenberg, hedge fund CEO Paul Singer and businessmen Sam Fox and Mel Sembler.
Coleman combines policy, political and fundraising savvy, said Americans for Tax Reform president Grover Norquist, who quipped: “How many can do all three?”
A member of the Foreign Relations Committee while on Capitol Hill, Coleman has a special focus on Israel and has appeared as a Romney surrogate on television and in Iowa, Florida and New Hampshire.
As a nonprofit, the AAN does not disclose its donors. But the Center for Responsive Politics has identified several through tax and other records. They include the Republican Jewish Coalition, which gave $4 million, and the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, which gave $4.5 million. Aetna also gave $3.3 million to ANN, according to recent disclosures.
The Congressional Leadership Fund has collected, by CRP’s tally, $6.5 million so far this cycle, thanks in part to the blessing of GOP leaders from Speaker John Boehner (Ohio) on down. Top super PAC donors include Texas home builder Bob Perry, who gave $1 million, and Adelson, who with his wife gave $5 million.
“I think it’s a new model, and I was blessed to be here at its inception. We caught the wave, and we navigated the wave, so that I think we’re in a position to have an impact,” said Coleman, who noted that he and Malek set out in part to create a policy counterweight to the left-leaning Center for American Progress.
Both Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington and Democracy 21 argue in their separate complaints to the IRS that the group is patently violating IRS law because it spends more than half its funds on political activity.
Coleman said the groups either “don’t understand the law,” or “mischaracterize it.”
“If we’re sending out a message to support lower taxes, or if we’re challenging somebody for supporting government-run health care, by law that is not political advocacy,” he said. “We are talking about policies.”
Rep. Eric Swalwell, D-Calif., walks on Broadway after a Future Forum with young entrepreneurs in the Flatiron District of New York City, April 16, 2015. Reps. Steve Israel, D-N.Y., Seth Moulton, D-Mass., and Grace Meng, D-N.Y., also attended.