Rove Political Groups’ $51 Million Overcomes Democrats’ Edge

Republicans trying to hold control of the U.S. House of Representatives will get a critical boost from independent groups, financial filings show.

Just one set of the groups, American Crossroads and Crossroads Grassroots Policy Strategies, yesterday reported raising $51 million last year. That was close to the totals for each of the two parties’ House election arms and enough to erase the edge held by the House Democrats’ campaign committee.

It’s also 17 times the $3 million raised by a Democratic-founded outside group, House Majority PAC.

The outside groups, without coordinating with the parties, can infuse money into races where Republicans aren’t raising as much as Democrats. They can also overwhelm Democrats with a flood of negative advertising while leaving the Republican Party and its candidates free to focus on positive messages. Rove’s organizations intend to weigh in on House and Senate races as well as the presidential campaign.

In some of the most competitive races, “at least as much money is going to be spent by outside groups as is spent by the candidates, and in some cases more,” said Gary Jacobson, a political science professor at the University of California at San Diego. “They’re going to be hugely involved.”

Party Committees

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee raised more than $61 million last year, according to a filing yesterday with the U.S. Federal Election Commission. That outpaced the National Republican Congressional Committee, which said it brought in $55 million. The Democrats had $12 million in cash at the end of December, compared with $15 million for the Republicans.

Democrats need a net gain of 25 seats to take back the House. The DCCC has targeted 36 races and districts for its “Red to Blue” program designed to flip the party in power.

The candidates are competing in an ever-more expensive atmosphere. Candidates and groups looking to influence the House elections have spent more than $9.2 million on broadcast television ads for the campaign so far, according to New York-based Kantar Media’s CMAG, which tracks advertising.

Crossroads GPS, a group that Karl Rove, former political adviser to President George W. Bush, helped create, spent $984,810 on television in nine districts. House Majority PAC, the group backing Democratic House candidates, spent $255,120 on broadcast television ads to aid candidates in Oregon and Iowa.

While American Crossroads brought in $12 million from Oct. 4 to Dec. 31, its Democratic counterpart raised just $910,215 in the same time period, according to the latest filings.

Cash on Hand

Overall, the three main Democratic Party committees outraised their Republican counterparts last year, yet ended up with less money in the bank. The Republican National Committee, combined with the Republican Senate and House committees, had almost $47 million to spend as of Dec. 31; the Democratic National Committee, plus its party’s House and Senate committees, had a combined $36 million.

Individual races showed mixed fundraising results for each party. In Iowa, Republican Representative Tom Latham had almost four times as much cash as Democratic Representative Leonard Boswell as the two vie for a merged seat created by redistricting. Latham raised $345,638 in the fourth quarter, while Boswell brought in $181,934.

California Races

In California, Republican challenger Ricky Gill took in less than Democratic Representative Jerry McNerney, yet ended up with a cash advantage, $837,618 to $780,340.

Democrats got better news in another California race, where Democratic challenger Ami Bera had almost twice as much cash as incumbent Republican Representative Dan Lungren after raising $263,784 in the fourth quarter. Lungren brought in $178,607.

In New Hampshire, Democratic challenger Anne McLane Kuster doubled the intake of Republican Representative Charlie Bass in the fourth quarter and ended up with $828,036 in cash, compared with Bass’s $600,264.

More important than the money raised by the candidates in competitive races may be the interest they draw from the outside groups.

These groups are “shaping up as a major factor in House races this year,” said Rogan Kersh, a public policy professor at New York University. “A carefully targeted super-PAC stream of contributions could influence a general-election House result.”

Crossroads Groups

Republican-leaning groups such as Crossroads GPS spent $184 million on the 2010 elections, about $100 million more than Democratic organizations, according to the Campaign Finance Institute, a Washington-based research group.

Crossroads GPS is organized as a nonprofit issue group and doesn’t disclose its donors. Its sister group American Crossroads and House Majority PAC are part of a new breed of so-called super-PACs that can take unlimited donations and have to disclose their contributors.

Top donations in the final quarter to House Majority PAC included $200,000 from the Teamsters union, $150,000 from media executive Fred Eychaner and $100,000 from Bernard L. Schwartz, the chief executive officer of BLS Investments.

American Crossroads got $5 million from Texas businessman Harold Simmons and $2 million from his holding company Contran Corp. It also reported a $5,000 contribution from the PAC of the Dallas-based phone company AT&T Inc.

Republicans will also benefit from the Club for Growth, which advocates for lower taxes. The group’s super-PAC had $1.9 million in cash after raising almost $2 million for the year. The Congressional Leadership Fund, another committee dedicated to helping Republicans maintain control of the House, raised $130,604 as it got organized at the end of the year.

The spending reported so far is only the beginning, Jacobson said. After a series of court and regulatory decisions cleared the way for super-PACs, they quickly multiplied.

“It was absolutely predictable that the numbers would go through the roof this time around,” Jacobson said.

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