Karl Rove, Republican-Leaning Groups Amass Winning Record in 2010 Midterms

Karl Rove’s American Crossroads and other top Republican-leaning groups that spent $167 million on the U.S. midterm elections came out on the winning side of almost twice as many races as they lost.

Rove’s American Crossroads and Crossroads GPS backed the victor in 23 of the 36 House and Senate races where a winner was declared. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce supported the winning candidate in 38 of 59 contests. American Action Network, which shared space with the Crossroads groups, won 14 races and lost 10. The groups also spent money in races that have yet to be undecided.

“The record amount of secret money spent by right-wing outside groups turned this political storm into a Category 3 political hurricane,” said Representative Chris Van Hollen of Maryland, chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

The election was the first since the U.S. Supreme Court reversed decades of precedent and said corporations could spend unlimited sums on federal races. Companies and wealthy individuals funneled millions into outside groups, many of which didn’t disclose their donors.

Republican-leaning groups spent $167 million between Sept. 1 and Oct. 31 in support of their party’s nominees, compared with $68 million by Democratic-leaning organizations, Federal Election Commission reports show.

‘Caught Up’

“We finally caught up with the Democrats,” said former Representative James Walsh, a New York Republican who works for the lawyer-lobbying firm K&L Gates LLP. “They’ve been doing this for years.”

Democratic consultant Peter Fenn, who works on congressional campaigns, said the money let the Republicans compete in more House races and use attack ads to “really seriously pick off some of these incumbents.”

In the 10 races that the Republican groups spent the most money on, they entered the winner’s circle six times, with the U.S. Senate race in Washington still too close to call. Among the winners, all Republicans: Senate candidates Pat Toomey in Pennsylvania and Mark Kirk in Illinois, and former Nevada state Senator Joe Heck in a Las Vegas-area congressional district.

Public Citizen, a Washington-based advocacy group that supports stronger campaign finance laws, found that 58 of 74 winners benefited from more outside spending than their opponents.

Defining the Message

“When you had a mid-cycle race where the message was absolutely key, the outside groups played a huge role in defining that message,” said Meredith McGehee, policy director for the Campaign Legal Center, a Washington group that favors limits on campaign giving.

The outside groups spent $18 million in September and October on the Colorado Senate race between incumbent Democrat Michael Bennet and Republican challenger Ken Buck. That’s more than the $14 million both candidates spent through Oct. 13. Bennet spent almost $8 million more than Buck; Republican groups spent $4 million more than Democratic organizations.

American Crossroads discloses its donors and Crossroads GPS doesn’t. The two groups, advised by Rove, who was President George W. Bush’s chief political strategist, spent $38 million, all to help elect Republican candidates and more than any other organization. Crossroads officials regularly met with representatives of allied groups, such as American Action Network, to plan strategy.

Team Effort

“This was a great team effort between the conservative independent groups, the party committees and candidates to overcome the dramatic advantages Democrats held with entrenched power,” said Jonathan Collegio, a Crossroads spokesman.

The Chamber of Commerce, the nation’s largest business lobby, spent almost $30 million, including $2 million in support of Democratic incumbents. The chamber, which doesn’t disclose its donors, fought efforts in Congress to require outside groups funding political ads to identify the sources of their money; Senate Republicans blocked the legislation in September.

Chamber President Tom Donohue attributed the election results to voters “who clearly stated that a strong and vibrant private sector is critical to reviving our economy, creating jobs and putting us on a path to long-term growth.”

Craig Holman, who handles campaign finance issues for Public Citizen, said that the 2010 spending was just a taste of what to expect two years from now, when the U.S. elects a president.

“The 2010 election provided a preview of the outside spending expected during the 2012 presidential race,” Holman said. “Sadly, 2010 was just a practice run for these guys.”

To contact the reporters on this story: Jonathan D. Salant in Washington at jsalant@bloomberg.net; Traci McMillan in Washington at tmcmillan1@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Mark Silva at msilva34@bloomberg.net.

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