Business Bid to Counter Tea Party Fizzles
Business-friendly GOP organizers who launched a new crop of super PACs to counter the tea party have failed to cash in, recent campaign disclosures show, leaving them badly outraised on both the right and the left.
Close to a dozen super PACs backed by the GOP’s business wing, including those with ties to Republican leaders on Capitol Hill, pulled in just under $10 million in 2013. That’s less than half the $21 million collected by a handful of tea party and anti-tax groups, including the Senate Conservatives Fund and the Club for Growth.
It’s also less than a third of the $31.3 million collected last year by the top four Democrat-friendly super PACs, including those backing House and Senate candidates. The “Main Street” Republicans’ low super PAC receipts reflect donor burnout, big money’s migration into unreported channels and continued strife over who defines the GOP.
“While I’m happy with where we are, I think we can do better,” said former Ohio Rep. Steven C. LaTourette, whose Defending Main Street super PAC raised $845,000 last year, more than half of it from labor unions. “And I will be disappointed if we are not able to turn it on by the end of March.”
LaTourette cited donors’ preference for giving to his group’s 501(c)(4) nonprofit arm, known as Main Street Advocacy, which is exempt from disclosure rules and raised $1.1 million last year. He also blamed disenchantment among GOP contributors, who poured millions into unrestricted super PACs in 2012 with unimpressive results.
“We’re caught up in some of the same stuff that I think all of [the] Republican organizations are feeling,” LaTourette said. “There was a great deal of deflation after the 2012 election.”
GOP consultant and blogger Crystal Wright has had such trouble raising money for her Conservative Melting Pot PAC, which she launched a year ago to help diversify the Republican candidate pool, that she’s considering closing up shop. Her super PAC collected just $4,112, and Wright said her fundraising pitches often drew angry emails complaining about the government shutdown and inaction on Capitol Hill.
“There’s a state of confusion, I think,” Wright said. “There’s no clear sign of leadership coming from the face of the Republican Party. Who are we? What do we really stand for, and what are we fighting for? And when you go out to get dollars, it makes it challenging because there’s more frustration associated with our brand than enthusiasm.”
Republicans for Immigration Reform, a super PAC launched by some of the same organizers who ran the top Mitt Romney super PAC in 2012, has raised just $307,545. The group takes credit for helping spur recent GOP immigration action, but has done little advertising. Two super PACs with ties to House GOP leaders, the Congressional Leadership Fund and the YG Action Fund, have raised $1.3 million between them. A super PAC and policy website launched by GOP consultant and commentator Alex Castellanos, NewRepublican.org, has raised less than $60,000.
Even at the deep-pocketed GOP super PAC American Crossroads, founded by Republican operative Karl Rove, receipts totaled only $3.6 million last year — five times less than the $18.4 million the group had collected at this point in the 2012 cycle. The super PAC and its tax-exempt arm, Crossroads Grassroots Policy Strategies, along with a new spinoff super PAC dubbed the Conservative Victory Project, collectively raised $6.1 million in 2013, Politico reported.
Still, that’s a far cry from the $300 million that the Crossroads operation shelled out in 2012. And the Conservative Victory Project, which drew both buzz and controversy when Rove pledged after the 2012 elections that the new super PAC would jump into Senate primaries, has essentially gone dormant, with $178 in cash on hand.
Crossroads spokesman Jonathan Collegio said in a statement that this year’s Senate races present “great opportunities” for Republicans, that pledges “are on track with previous cycles,” and that the group is “increasingly enthusiastic” about the prospects of winning the Senate and holding the House.
Some big American Crossroads donors have flocked to Kentuckians for Strong Leadership, a super PAC set up to back Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., who faces both a primary challenge from conservative Matt Bevin and a strong Democratic opponent in Alison Lundergan Grimes. It raised $2.4 million last year, ranking it among the top GOP-friendly super PACs in this election.
Other GOP super PACs focused on individual races include the West Main Street Values PAC, which has raised $130,000 to defend Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., from primary challenges on the right, and Mississippi Conservatives, a super PAC that launched this year and has already spent $219,500 opposing Chris McDaniel, a conservative state senator challenging Sen. Thad Cochran, R-Miss.
Most importantly, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which doled out $35.6 million in the 2012 elections, has spent close to $1 million on the midterms. That includes $200,000 to defend McConnell and $140,000 to support Rep. Mike Simpson, R-Idaho, who also faces a conservative primary challenger. The chamber will reportedly spend up to $50 million in the midterms; a chamber spokeswoman declined to discuss spending or strategy.
Some business leaders say they are shifting their focus from high-dollar ads to more effective local and grass-roots organizing. When Liz Cheney abandoned her bid to unseat Sen. Michael B. Enzi, the National Retail Federation took some credit for having mobilized Wyoming business leaders behind Enzi.
“What we showed in Wyoming is that the right way to do this is to make sure that real people are engaged,” said David French, the federation’s vice president for government relations. “I think orchestrating efforts from Washington is going to be really ineffective, because it continues to feed the establishment-versus-insurgent narrative that the insurgents want to feed.”
Even so, GOP business allies are up against conservative organizers who collected more than $20 million between them last year. That includes $9.4 million for the Senate Conservatives Fund and its affiliated super PAC, $6.4 million for the Tea Party Patriots Citizens Fund, $2.6 million for Club for Growth Action, and $2.3 million for the Madison Project..