Campaign Finance

The Ties that Bind GOP Fundraisers


A network of Republican-leaning groups is doing what the Grand Old Party and most of its candidates could not: outspend Democrats in the 2010 elections. Fueled by unlimited and often undisclosed donations from corporations and wealthy individuals, these organizations, with names like American Crossroads and the American Action Network, have spent $98 million between Sept. 1 and Oct. 17 on House and Senate races. That's more than three times as much as Democrat-friendly organizations.

Many of these campaign fundraisers are prominent figures from President George W. Bush's Administration, such as White House aides Karl Rove and Ed Gillespie. The groups share a political agenda, personnel, and even office space. "It's almost as if these are shadow parties," says Bill Allison, editorial director for the Sunlight Foundation, a Washington watchdog group. They've found a way to supplement the official Republican campaign committees, Allison says, "without having to play by the same rules."

The Rove operation is the biggest of the newly formed Republican super PACs, so-called because they can accept unlimited donations from corporations and individuals, though as political action committees these outfits must disclose donor names and amounts to the Federal Election Commission. Two companies led by Harold C. Simmons, chairman of Dallas-based Titanium Metals (TIE), gave $1 million each to American Crossroads, FEC filings show.

Other groups, such as Americans for Job Security and Crossroads GPS, an affiliate of Rove's American Crossroads, are incorporated under section 501(c) of the tax code. That designation gives them the freedom to run television ads without saying who's really paying. President Barack Obama has attacked the outside spending because voters can't discern the agenda of those bankrolling the ads. While the 501(c) groups must report spending on some political ads to the FEC, Senate Republicans blocked legislation requiring the organizations to disclose their donors. "Karl Rove figured out a neat trick, and his friends are eager to emulate it," says Lisa Gilbert, deputy director of Public Citizen's Congress Watch, which favors more donor disclosure. Rove declined to comment.

Some of these Republican-supporting groups are closely connected. One pivotal member is Carl Forti, the political director for Rove's American Crossroads who also handles publicity for the 60 Plus Assn., a group that supports privatizing Social Security and has spent $6.3 million on ads favoring Republicans from Sept. 1 through Oct. 17. Another is former Representative Thomas M. Reynolds of New York, who chaired the National Republican Congressional Committee when Forti worked there earlier in the decade and sits on the board of American Action Network (AAN), headed by former Republican Senator Norm Coleman of Minnesota. That group has spent $10.5 million in the same period.

Now things really get intertwined: Forti co-founded the consulting firm Black Rock Group with Michael Dubke, who once led Americans for Job Security, a group that wants to retain all of the Bush-era tax cuts and has spent $4.5 million. Dubke in turn is the founder of Crossroads Media of Alexandria, Va., which has handled advertising for American Crossroads, AAN, and Americans for Job Security. The American Crossroads strategists lease space from Coleman's AAN and meet there with other Republican-leaning groups, says Jonathan Collegio, a spokesman. The organizations are "making sure that our ad buys don't step on an ad buy of another group," he says. There is no shortage of contributors to finance those ad buys, Forti says. "Donors are energized because of the opportunity that exists right now," he says. "Voters are angry."

The bottom line: Numerous connections tie together groups raising and spending big money in support of Republican candidates.

Jensen is a reporter for Bloomberg News.

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