Familiar faces are behind a new effort to challenge President Barack Obama.
The Republican operatives who created Tea Party Express, the leading political action committee of the tea party movement, recently launched a separate PAC called the Campaign to Defeat Barack Obama.
By creating the independent group, the organizers can raise more money and be a stronger force in the upcoming presidential race.
The new group has the ambitious goal of organizing 1 million people against the president through television ads, online petitions and grass-roots events. More than 46,000 people have signed the group’s online petition “to defeat Barack Obama” since January.
“We want to be the aggressive, independent group that goes after him and stands up to the Obama campaign,” said Ryan Gill, the PAC’s vice president.
He described the campaign as a “sister organization” to Tea Party Express. The two share an office and use the same mailing list to promote their events and raise money.
Both are projects of Our Country Deserves Better, a PAC started by Republican Party members Howard Kaloogian and Sal Russo to oppose Obama’s presidential campaign in 2008. It funded a “Stop Obama” bus tour that year and later led multiple tea party bus tours across the country to oppose Obama and Democratic leaders.
Tea Party Express spent $7.7 million last year to support conservative candidates in the midterm elections, mostly through ads and independent expenditures, according to its federal filings.
The group came under scrutiny for using at least $3 million of that amount to pay Russo’s consulting firm and one run by his wife.
Gill worked closely with a Tea Party Express leader, Joe Wierzbicki, to create the spinoff group targeting Obama, and they hired people already affiliated with the tea party PAC. Wierzbicki is also a principal in Russo’s firm.
Using the same email list as Tea Party Express, they have raised $600,000 for the Campaign to Defeat Barack Obama since January, Gill said, but the group has not yet filed financial reports with the Federal Election Commission. The new PAC was registered with the FEC in April.
The same list helped promote the campaign’s March kickoff event in California, a fundraiser that featured “three Joes” close to the conservative grass roots: Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, an ardent supporter of the Arizona’s immigration enforcement law; Joe Miller, the Republican who lost to GOP Sen. Lisa Murkowski last fall; and Joseph Wurzelbacher, better known as Joe the Plumber.
By keeping the campaign separate from Tea Party Express, Gill said they can “make sure that we have separate control and flexibility.”
It could also help raise more money. Dave Levinthal, spokesman for the Center for Responsive Politics, said the separate PACs could offer a fundraising advantage.
“You may be able to attract the same donors to donate twice to these political action committees that are philosophically aligned or advancing a similar agenda,” Levinthal said.
Joseph Birkenstock, a lawyer with Caplin & Drysdale, added that separate groups could also help distinguish brands.
Tea Party Express has tried to pitch itself as independent of the Republican Party, while Gill said the campaign will “work with as many candidates as possible to build a campaign to defeat Barack Obama.”
Amy Kremer, chairwoman of Tea Party Express, faced a backlash from tea party leaders when she said in a televised interview, “Whoever is a Republican nominee, they’re going to have to have the support of the tea party movement, the entire tea party movement.”
For the campaign, that is expressly the purpose: support the Republican nominee and get Obama out.
The Campaign to Defeat Barack Obama may also become a super PAC, allowing the group to raise and spend unlimited funds to independently target candidates. As a traditional PAC, Tea Party Express has a limit on how much money it can take from any individual or entity.
So far, the money raised by the group has gone primarily to making anti-Obama ads. The new PAC also spent $100,000 in Wisconsin, where Gill said Democrats are using the battle over collective bargaining rights “to jump-start the energy and fundraising of the Obama campaign.”
Tea Party Express was also active in Wisconsin, but Gill said the Campaign to Defeat Barack Obama can focus exclusively on opposing Obama while the tea party group continues to plan bus tours and organize local groups in other races.