The Tea Party Express is not about to miss the chance to tap donors who want to put unlimited sums of money behind conservative candidates so long as they can do it secretly.
The group, which played a key role in fueling GOP primary upsets in the Delaware and Alaska Senate races in 2010, has set up a political nonprofit on top of its two existing political action committees.
In its breakout move, the group’s new arm — State Tea Party Express — launched a TV ad campaign Wednesday, targeting President Barack Obama’s jobs bill, which failed to pass the Senate on Tuesday night. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) is expected to bring up the plan in a piecemeal fashion over the coming weeks.
The 60-second spot — called “The Perry Walker Way” — compares Obama’s proposal with the jobs agendas of Republican Govs. Scott Walker of Wisconsin and Rick Perry of Texas, a Republican presidential contender.
“Strong records of cutting taxes, balancing budgets and reducing spending have worked while the Obama policies have failed,” the narrator says in the 60-second spot, which will run on cable television stations nationwide. “Govs. Perry and Walker have shown that America can create jobs with the right leader.”
The ad buy is roughly $500,000, and the spot will run for at least the next two weeks.
Sal Russo, the longtime Republican operative behind the Tea Party Express, said the ad is not an official endorsement of Perry but the group will eventually get behind a candidate.
“That has been our goal and intention all along — hopefully to get some focus by the tea party people on the candidate that they think is strongest,” he said. “As we have been polling our donors continuously, it has bounced considerably. ... My guess is [Herman] Cain will be in the lead next.”
The group, which spent $7.7 million promoting conservative candidates in the last election cycle through its Our Country Deserves Better PAC, hosted a Republican presidential debate with CNN in Florida earlier this fall.
The group’s new arm is set up under IRS code as a 501(c)(4) nonprofit and can accept unlimited contributions from anyone, including corporations, without disclosing its donors. Russo said secrecy was not the reason for creating this third fundraising vehicle.
“It’s never been about the undisclosed [benefit of a (c)(4)],” he said. “We went through the 2010 cycle disclosing everybody.”
PACs, however, are required to report donations and disbursements to the Federal Election Commission, and individual contributions cannot exceed $5,000. The new structure allows Russo’s group the flexibility that groups like the Karl Rove-affiliated American Crossroads and Crossroads GPS enjoy. The Tea Party Patriots, another well-known tea party group, is also set up as a 501(c)(4) but does not engage in federal elections.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., carries a musket on stage as he speaks during the American Conservative Union's Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) at National Harbor, Md., on Thursday March 6, 2014.