Almost 30 years after he was an aide to Senator Richard Lugar of Indiana, venture capitalist Andrew Klingenstein received an appeal from the lawmaker’s former chief of staff: Let’s start a super-PAC.
Klingenstein agreed, and in January formed the Indiana Values super-PAC with one goal -- to help the six-term Republican combat attack ads by such organizations as the small-government Club for Growth. Unlike Lugar’s re-election campaign, the independent super-PAC can accept unlimited donations. It has spent $387,000 against Lugar’s opponent in the May 8 primary, Indiana Treasurer Richard Mourdock.
This political action committee and others are helping individual Senate candidates two years after the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United ruling removed limits on corporate and union independent election spending. The groups, formed to influence races in Virginia, North Dakota, Texas and other states, are arms-length partners that can air the toughest attack ads, said Bill Allison, editorial director of the Sunlight Foundation.
“We’re going to see this in a lot of the Senate races, where they take on a lot of the burden of negative advertising,” said Allison, whose group tracks campaign giving. “It’s a way for them to outsource the dirty work of a campaign.”
Independent super-PAC spending began late in the 2010 campaign. Candidate-specific groups emerged this year in the presidential race when supporters of President Barack Obama and Republican front-runner Mitt Romney created super-PACs. Senate races weren’t far behind, with Republicans trying to overturn the Democrats’ 53-47 control of the chamber.
“That it’s happened next in Senate races is not particularly surprising, because they’re pretty high-profile and there’s a tenuous hold on the chamber,” said Bob Biersack, a senior fellow at the Washington-based Center for Responsive Politics, which tracks campaign giving. “Every one of these races is going to be critical for who controls the Senate next year.”
In Texas, two super-PACs are supporting Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst in a May 29 Republican primary in a field that includes former state Solicitor General Ted Cruz. They are seeking to replace retiring Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison. Cruz is the favorite of FreedomWorks, which backs the Tea Party movement and has spent about $110,000 from its super-PAC to help him.
The Club for Growth’s super-PAC also favors Cruz and has spent almost $469,000 to defeat Dewhurst.
“The super-PACs are really a way to double down on the Dewhurst effort,” said Bill Miller, a Republican political consultant in Austin who has observed the pro-Dewhurst efforts. “He’s the favorite right now, but he does not want a run-off in late July with a conservative opponent.”
The super-PACs supporting Dewhurst are raking in funds from longtime Republican donors. The Texas Conservatives Fund raised $490,100 by the end of March, including $100,000 from Bob Perry, a Houston donor who helped fund the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth ads that attacked Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry’s Vietnam War service in 2004.
James Pitcock Jr., top executive at a Texas highway construction company and a donor to a super-PAC that supported Texas Governor Rick Perry’s Republican presidential bid, also gave $100,000.
The Conservative Renewal super-PAC, founded in January to aid Dewhurst’s Senate race, has raised $600,000 -- $100,000 from Pitcock and $500,000 from Texas billionaire Harold Simmons, another Perry supporter.
In North Dakota, a political consultant with ties to Senate Republican leaders established the Freedom Pioneers Action Network on March 30. Its goal is to boost the candidacy of Republican Representative Rick Berg, who is expected to face former North Dakota Attorney General Heidi Heitkamp, a Democrat, in a contest to succeed retiring Senator Kent Conrad.
“We’re in the process of getting it organized,” said Justin Brasell, the group’s treasurer. He also ran Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell’s 2008 re-election bid in Kentucky and the 2010 campaign of Senator John Thune of South Dakota, the third-ranking Republican in the chamber.
In Virginia, supporters of the two main candidates for the state’s Senate seat set up super-PACs within four days of each other. The Independence Virginia super-PAC, which supports Republican George Allen, a former senator and governor, was created March 9 and plans to raise as much as $3 million, said Paul Bennecke, director and treasurer of the group.
“We have one mission, and that is to make sure George Allen wins,” said Bennecke, who handled independent spending for the Republican Governors Association and worked on Virginia Republican Robert McDonnell’s campaign for governor in 2009.
The New Virginia PAC was formed March 13 to help former Governor Tim Kaine, a Democrat. Judith Zamore, a Washington-based campaign consultant who is the group’s treasurer, declined to comment on its goals.
At least one super-PAC is aimed at trying to unseat a candidate, rather than to help one get elected.
Two labor unions in Boston -- the Massachusetts Teachers Association and the Service Employees International Union -- are financing Rethink Brown, a super-PAC aimed at defeating freshman Massachusetts Senator Scott Brown, a Republican. Their Rethink PAC is run by Elizabeth Morningstar, a former top aide to Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick, a Democrat.
It has raised $695,000 to aid the likely Democratic Senate candidate, Elizabeth Warren, in her race against Brown.
No TV Ads
Rethink super-PAC spokesman Stephen Crawford said it isn’t buying TV ads for now. Brown and Warren agreed that if any super-PAC buys TV ads, the candidate benefiting must donate half the value of the ads to a charity of the other’s choosing. Crawford said his group is considering get-out-the-vote and other ways to influence the race.
In Indiana, the pro-Lugar super-PACs are behind some of the sharpest attacks. Hoosiers for Economic Growth and Jobs aired an ad March 30 in Indianapolis tying Mourdock to the voting record of former U.S. Representative Chris Chocola. He is now president of the Club for Growth, which is spending funds to help Mourdock.
The pro-Lugar ad called Mourdock and Chocola ‘hypocrites’’ for suggesting that Lugar isn’t conservative enough because Chocola once favored an expansion of Medicare, a minimum wage increase and “dozens” of appropriations earmarks.
“Reject the Richard Mourdock-Club for Growth hypocrisy,” the ad said.
‘Do Your Job’
An April 12 ad financed by the Indiana Values super-PAC said Mourdock skips most of the meetings of state boards he serves on. It said voters should “tell Richard Mourdock to stop running and do your job.” The super-PAC has raised almost $165,000, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
While the groups don’t coordinate with Lugar’s re-election committee, he is among friends.
Hoosiers for Economic Growth and Jobs was founded by two political consultants for Meridian Pacific Inc., a Sacramento, California-based firm. Robert Vane, a spokesman for the group, said one of the consultants, John Peschong, knew Lugar when Peschong worked for President Ronald Reagan.
Top donors include Sam Fox, a former U.S. ambassador to Belgium and now chairman of St. Louis-based Harbour Group. He gave $25,000 to a group that has spent about $215,000 in the race, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
The Indiana Values super-PAC is led by former Lugar chief of staff Chip Andreae. Klingenstein and his father, philanthropist John Klingenstein, each gave $25,000. Mark Dalton, president and chief executive of Tudor Investment Corp. in Greenwich, Connecticut, gave $50,000. Dalton and Lugar both serve on the board of trustees of Lugar’s alma mater, Denison University in Granville, Ohio.
Klingenstein said both super-PACs, which are loosely coordinating, plan a final burst of ads in the next few weeks.
“It’s going to be an absolute sprint to the finish,” said Klingenstein, the group’s treasurer. “We’re going to be on the air as much as we can.”