A New ‘Pro-Rand Paul’ Super-PAC is Making Paul’s Official Super-PAC Nervous
The phone calls were confounding, until they multiplied. People at the top of Kentucky Senator Rand Paul's network were being asked about a new group that wanted to turn donations into campaign wins. What, they asked, was the Concerned American Voters super-PAC?
The short answer: A headache. The new iteration of the CAV super-PAC is the child of a movement that mostly helps but sometimes bedevils Rand Paul. It was relaunched this week, with much fanfare, when long-time FreedomWorks CEO Matt Kibbe announced that he'd left the Tea Party group to become a senior PAC advisor. The new PAC would try to organize Iowa for Paul, starting with 40-full time organizers. Kibbe's goal, he told reporter Byron Tau, was to prevent 2016 from being another "train wreck for the GOP" by out-organizing the Republican establishment.
At FreedomWorks, Kibbe had endorsed Paul's work whenever he could. In 2013, he and FreedomWorks endorsed Paul's filibuster over the legality of drone warfare. In 2014, he stood behind Paul to endorse the senator's civil suit over the NSA's bulk data collection program, "on behalf of our six million-plus members."
Yet people close to Paul discouraged Kibbe from building up his own PAC. It was nothing personal; it was just that the candidate had already sanctioned America's Liberty PAC. One source euphemistically described Kibbe's move as entrepreneurial, to emphasize that the senator had not been pining for a second super-PAC.
"We have no animosity and Mr. Kibbe is free to support Rand in any way he likes," America's Liberty PAC Jesse Benton told Bloomberg in an e-mail. "America's Liberty PAC, however, will remain the only Super PAC endorsed by Senator Paul, and the only PAC that will host Senator Paul at events."
Benton, that PAC's lead strategist, has spent eight years in Paul's orbit. He became the spokesman for the quixotic presidential campaign of his father, former Texas Congressman Ron Paul, in 2007. He went on to work with Paul's congressional re-election committee, for his Liberty PAC, for the Campaign for Liberty (a non-profit grassroots group created in the wake of the presidential bid) and for his 2012 presidential campaign—and during all that, he married Paul's granddaughter and started a family. Benton and Campaign for Liberty president John Tate were making America's Liberty PAC what Right to Rise PAC was for Jeb Bush, or what Priorities USA Action was for Hillary Clinton.
But Concerned American Voters pulled from another group of pro-Paul activists. Its president is Jeff Frazee, who ran Ron Paul's youth outreach campaign in 2008 and turned that into the still-growing Young Americans for Liberty. Its senior tech advisor is Steve Oskoui, president of the 2012 pro-Ron Paul Endorse Liberty PAC that convinced Silicon Valley entrepreneur Peter Thiel to fork over $2 million. Thiel, famously, has resisted making a similar commitment to Rand Paul. While America's Liberty PAC is most famous (so far) for a WWE-styled commercial for Paul's PATRIOT Act filibusters, CAV is packaging itself as an on-the-ground disrupter.
"We already have 40 full-time field staffers in Iowa knocking on doors and making phone calls," Frazee told Bloomberg. "Our team has knocked on over 75,000 doors and made over 70,000 phone calls as of today. We're building a grassroots operation that the other candidates won't be able to compete with in Iowa. Based on polling and the responses we're getting back, it's certainly a state we think Rand can win."
If anything, Frazee was even more ambitious in a Thursday statement about the new PAC. "By focusing on grassroots organization, e-marketing and proven Get Out The Vote tactics, Concerned American Voters will give Rand the edge he needs to win the Republican nomination and the general election," he said. "The Internet cuts out middlemen, party bosses, lobbyists, and bundlers looking for a quid pro quo. This is the dynamic that allowed then-Senate candidate Rand Paul to beat Mitch McConnell's hand-picked successor in Kentucky in 2010."
Benton might not put those exact words together. In 2013 and 2014, he embodied the rapprochement between Paul and McConnell by serving as McConnell's campaign manager. He only left, late in the campaign, after nagging questions about the Ron Paul campaign's 2012 endorsement from an Iowa state senator who took a kickback. In the sprawling, grassroots side of Paul movement, the branding of America's Liberty PAC leaves something to be desired.
Yet Concerned American Voters is no blank slate. As Ken Vogel has reported, Kibbe left FreedomWorks after a years-long struggle that spilled into the media. After the disappointing losses of the 2012 election, FreedomWorks president Dick Armey resigned, and Kibbe took over. In 2013, Armey himself went on a PR tear, describing a fight over the writing and rights of Kibbe's 2012 book, decrying the "secrecy" with which money came in for campaigns.
Later in 2013, when Buzzfeed reported that FreedomWorks was in "dire financial straights," the group dismissed the "baseless attacks" and went ahead funding a series of 2014 Republican primary challenges—with limited success. According to FreedomWorks's 990 tax filing, its revenue dropped dramatically in 2013, and it ended the filing period with less than $1 million in net assets, down from around $5 million the year before. In the same period, Kibbe's compensation was cut from $321,343 to $258,619.
But Kibbe no longer works for FreedomWorks. "The Concerned American Voters team is going going to focus on grassroots organization, GOTV, door knocking, and social media persuasion and canvassing," Kibbe told Bloomberg in an e-mail. "This is our comparative advantage, and it nicely complements what the other Rand PAC is doing. I think we both add value in our efforts to ensure a Rand Paul victory."
Asked if he had been discouraged to join and build a new pro-Paul PAC, Kibbe said he hadn't. "I think everyone is good and we will run a very inclusive operation that does not step on other folks' toes."