American Crossroads and its sister organization are poised to inject up to $70 million into the battle for the Senate on behalf of Republicans.
The GOP-aligned super PAC and its affiliated issue-advocacy arm, Crossroads GPS, have reserved $23.5 million in fall television advertising in six states and will have invested $10 million on targeted Senate contests by mid-August. With minimal overhead and competitively bid consultant contracts and by paying industry-low 3 percent media placement commissions, the group funnels about 95 percent of contributions into political activity, which this cycle will include on-air and online advertising, phone work and direct mail.
In an interview with Roll Call, American Crossroads President and CEO Steven Law affirmed Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s assessment that control of the chamber could go either way on Nov. 6, saying it’s his organization’s goal to tip the scale for the GOP.
“We agree with Sen. McConnell that the current odds of taking the Senate are 50-50, and it’s our job to improve those odds,” said Law, a former aide to the Kentucky Republican.
American Crossroads and Crossroads GPS spent a total of $70 million during the 2010 cycle, including $50 million on Senate races and $20 million on House contests. This year, their proposed $70 million expenditure on the Senate represents less than a quarter of a planned $300 million budget that includes a heavy focus on the presidential race and limited investment in House races. Last cycle, the National Republican Senatorial Committee spent about $105 million.
Crossroads officials declined to reveal their race-by-race messaging strategy or to provide an exact road map for their planned Senate race spending.
But they said clues could be found in the 10 battleground states that they have already invested in: Florida, Indiana, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New Mexico, Nevada, North Dakota, Ohio and Virginia. The super PAC’s fall reservations include $6.2 million in Florida by American Crossroads. Crossroads GPS has reserved $2.3 million in Missouri, $1.8 million in Nevada, $706,000 in North Dakota, $6.7 million in Ohio and $5.7 million in Virginia.
Law views the Senate map as ripe for Republicans to net the four seats needed to win the majority. But he said the political climate is less favorable than in 2010, conceding that Democrats have recruited superior candidates in certain races and maintained a significant fundraising edge in others. He said Crossroads would invest where its deep war chest could fill a gap left by the party or swing an expensive, competitive race.
“The Senate may not be impacted for good or ill by what’s going on at the presidential level,” Law added. “Senate races tend to be a choice. There is so much coverage and activity. Voters tend to get to know both candidates.”
Perhaps because of its success last cycle, which coincided with a wave election that saw Republicans win control of the House and flip seven Senate seats — or perhaps because high-profile Republican strategist Karl Rove is among its founders, American Crossroads and Crossroads GPS have evolved into a super PAC heavyweight against which most others are measured.
The organization is structured similar to a corporation, with a board of directors that approves spending and a small but seasoned staff. The board chairman is Mike Duncan, a former Republican National Committee chairman.
Rove, who declined to comment for this story, handles most of the fundraising and does not charge the super PAC commission for that work or get paid in any other fashion. He is not on the board and rarely advises on an individual race or ad buy, functioning only as an “informal adviser.”
Most strategic decisions are made by Law, who served as executive director of the NRSC under McConnell, and Carl Forti, the super PAC’s political director whose résumé includes political director for Mitt Romney’s 2008 presidential campaign and communications director and chief independent expenditure strategist for the National Republican Congressional Committee in 2004 and 2006. Forti also plays a key role and helped launch the pro-Romney super PAC, Restore Our Future. Crossroads spokesman Jonathan Collegio was Forti’s deputy at the NRCC.
Crossroads saves as much of every dollar possible for ad buys. It pays almost no fundraising commissions or fees and solicits bids from consultants on polling, ad production and other campaign services. Campaigns can pay anywhere from 6 percent to 15 percent commission to media buyers. But Crossroads pays 3 percent, in part because of its volume of buys.
Crossroads’ spartan office occupies part of a top floor high-rise in downtown, Washington, D.C. Visitors enter through a pair of wooden double doors marked only by an inconspicuous nameplate and white doorbell. With Rove serving as its premier front man, the political group attracts its fair share of protesters. The staff relishes those attacks, hanging protesters’ posters on the wall like political taxidermy.
Staffers hung one poster that declared “Indict Karl Rove” to the wall with masking tape. Just inside the entrance, there’s a framed cease and desist letter from President Bill Clinton’s counsel to Jo Ann Davidson, a Crossroads’ board member. The October 2011 letter asked Crossroads to stop using a YouTube image of Clinton in one of its advertisements. It didn’t work; the spot finished its flight.
Otherwise, the white walls are mostly undecorated save for a few generic-brand flat-screen televisions. There’s a trendy red poster that reads “Keep Calm and Vote Republican.”
The space is a cross between a swanky political consulting firm and a gritty campaign committee office; the young staffers walk around without jackets and ties.
A large carpeted conference room anchors the office, filled by an expansive black table with seats for 14. It’s a symbolic nod to the board’s influence in the organization.
About 10 board members meet almost monthly to approve overall strategy and a framework for spending in individual states. It’s a departure from the consultant-driven model of past third-party groups, for which hired hands could control the ad making, ad buying and strategy — often to their own financial benefit.
“We see ourselves — certainly as not the leader — but as a convener of advocacy in the center-right sphere,” Law said.
Vice President Joe Biden waits to conduct a mock swearing-in ceremony with Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, in the Capitol's Old Senate Chamber, December 2, 2014. Schatz was sworn in to serve the remainder of his term since he was appointed to the seat after Sen. Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, passed away.