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Phone Company PAC Funds Campaigns Against Republicans With Customer Overpayments

Scott J. Ferrell/CQ Roll Call File Photo
Rep. Dan Lungren is one of the targets of Credo's new super PAC.

"We hope that there's a tipping point at which people will become disgusted by advertising," said Becky Bond, the president of Credo SuperPAC and the company's political director.

The group is taking advantage of the 2010 Supreme Court ruling that made it legal for corporations to make unlimited political donations - through PACS or autonomously - so long as they operate independently from candidates.

The phone company's customers and corporate treasury had donated more than $2 million to the PAC as of Aug. 30, according to reports filed Sept. 20 with the Federal Election Commission.

Of every customer's monthly charges, 1 percent goes to liberal nonprofit groups. The phone bill itself doubles as a newsletter from the progressive world.

Earlier this year, the phone company started asking its customers to overpay their bills in support of its new super PAC. Those funds are then transferred to the super PAC as a corporate donation, one that would have been prohibited before the Supreme Court ruling in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission.

So far, the group has invested about $165,000 in each of the 10 districts - a pittance in comparison to what other outside groups have spent. In Minnesota's 8th district, where Cravaack is facing former Democratic Rep. Rick Nolan (D), outside groups have spent more than $1.65 million on independent expenditures, making it one of the most expensive House races this cycle, according to the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics.

Ben Golnik, a spokesman for the Cravaack campaign said the grass-roots army that helped his candidate oust 18-term Rep. Jim Oberstar in 2010 "vastly outnumbers any outside group that may come in for a short period of time."

A spokeswoman for the PAC said it has almost 1,300 volunteers ready to pound the pavement in Cravaack's district.

The super PAC, which concentrated on protests and building its volunteer ranks throughout the summer, will focus almost exclusively on voter contact until Election Day, the spokeswoman said.

In Lungren's district, the group has signed up 972 volunteers who have made more than 45,000 calls and knocked on 2,600 doors, she said.

"Any group in a Congressional district who has 950 volunteers should take over the world," said Matt Rexroad, a Republican consultant and redistricting expert with Meridian Pacific in Sacramento. "And I don't see anyone taking over the world."

Still, Lungren's campaign is on notice.

In late August, Credo sent dozens of activists to demonstrate at three town hall meetings that Lungren hosted. Before the third, Lungren's chief of staff, Peter Tateishi, asked the local Tea Party Patriots chapter for support.

"The past two town halls have been hijacked by protesters with the group Credo PAC," wrote Tateishi, who is running for California State Assembly in November. "The Congressman was hoping we might be able to get a number of members to his last town hall to counter the protesters and show that the Tea Party is alive and well and not going to let any group bully them around."

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