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A Florida-based investment firm run by a frequent Republican donor is the sole contributor to a group that is airing television ads comparing President Barack Obama’s leadership unfavorably to that of former Democratic presidents.
The commercials aired in two cities, Youngstown, Ohio and Johnstown, Pennsylvania, both of which could be critical to Obama’s re-election chances.
Four years ago, when Obama won Ohio by 5 percentage points, he took 62 percent of the vote in Mahoning County, which includes Youngstown. A poorer showing by the president because of depressed Democratic turnout could help Romney take the state in November.
“Ohio polls show it’s a jump ball, and they’re trying to keep the enthusiasm for President Obama down in the Youngstown market,” said Bill Binning, a Youngstown State University political scientist who headed the Mahoning County Republican Party in the 1980s. The Youngstown and Johnstown regions include many older white Catholics who have long voted Democratic, and the ads are “trying to bust up the old Democratic coalition,” Binning added.
The activity of Real Leader PAC illustrates the ease with which one person can organize a super-political action committee and attempt to influence the outcome of the 2012 presidential race in large and small ways. Creating a committee simply requires depositing money in a new bank account and filing paperwork with the Federal Election Commission.
“We will see more of these types of PACs springing up during the course of this election year,” said Anthony Corrado, a political scientist at Colby College in Waterville, Maine.
The president’s re-election committee didn’t respond to requests for comment.
Real Leader PAC, which aired three anti-Obama television ads last month, is underwritten by a $250,000 donation from Lexington Management Group Inc. of West Palm Beach, Florida, according to federal campaign records current to March 31.
Lexington’s chairman, William Lee Hanley Jr., is on the board of directors of Eagle Publishing, which publishes books that promote limited government and open markets, according to Eagle’s website.
Hanley donated more than $228,000 to Republican federal candidates and committees in the past three election cycles, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, a Washington- based research group that tracks campaign donations. Lexington Management Group donated $175,000 to the Republican Governors Association in 2010 and another $50,000 in 2011, according to documents the RGA filed with the Internal Revenue Service.
Hanley also gave $2,300 to presumptive Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney’s 2008 bid and $5,000 in March 2011 to U.S. House Speaker John Boehner, federal campaign finance records show.
Real Leader PAC spent an estimated $65,810 to air three ads 192 times in the Youngstown and Johnstown television markets between April 24 and April 30, according to New York-based Kantar Media’s CMAG, which tracks advertising.
The ads featured criticism of Obama from unidentified people who say the president hasn’t delivered the change he promised. “We need a real leader,” a narrator says at the end of the PAC’s first ad.
Another spot accused Obama of having “abandoned our manned space program” as it shows footage of a 1962 speech by President John F. Kennedy that touts the importance of the space program.
A third ad includes some praise for former President Bill Clinton. “I think Bill Clinton could teach Mr. Obama a lot about leadership,” one man says to another man.
The ads aired in areas that backed Hillary Clinton rather than Obama in the 2008 presidential primaries. Clinton, the former first lady who’s now the U.S. secretary of state, won 72 percent of the vote against Obama in the county that includes Johnstown and 63 percent in the county that includes Youngstown.
Ohio has backed the White House winner in 12 consecutive elections, the longest active streak among the 50 states, and no Republican has been elected president without carrying the state.
Pennsylvania is more Democratic-leaning than Ohio, though it too may be competitive in the fall. Obama led Romney by 2 percentage points in Ohio and by 8 points in Pennsylvania in a Quinnipiac University poll taken April 25-May 1.
Obama began a $25 million advertising campaign last week in nine states including Ohio and Pennsylvania.
While super-PACs are required to file periodic reports with the FEC in Washington, the quality of disclosure can vary by group. Real Leader PAC attributed the $250,000 donation to Lexington Management Group in a filing that didn’t identify any individuals.
The Florida address the PAC listed for Lexington is for an accounting firm, Caler, Donten, Levine, Cohen, Porter & Veil, that didn’t return telephone or e-mail messages seeking information about the donation. A message left at Hanley’s residence in Palm Beach wasn’t returned.
The PAC’s New York-based treasurer, Robert J. Perkins, a marketing executive who once raised money for the Republican National Committee, didn’t return telephone and e-mail messages seeking comment.
Real Leader PAC’s website says only that it’s “under construction,” and its FEC report listed an address that is on the 26th floor of New York’s Chrysler Building.
By the end of March, Real Leader PAC already had spent most of the $250,000 Lexington donated in October 2011, records show. The PAC had $40,302 in the bank at the end of March after spending $209,698.
The PAC spent $118,000 on two firms for what the PAC’s filing said was political strategy consulting. Of this total, $91,900 went to an organization called Armada Publishing that shares an address with the PAC. The PAC paid $26,154 to Sharp Arrow Consulting Corp., a New York-based company for which Perkins is the principal executive officer, state corporation records show.
It’s undetermined whether Lexington donated more money or whether Real Leader PAC has any other donors. Real Leader PAC won’t file its next fundraising report until mid-July, covering donations and expenses for April, May and June.
Real Leader PAC isn’t the only super-PAC funded wholly or mostly by a single source.
American Jobs PAC, funded by a single $285,000 donation from Vancouver, Washington, businessman Andrew V. Martini, aired television ads in the Portland and Seattle markets that promoted former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and criticized Romney and former U.S. Senator Rick Santorum, CMAG data show.
“This is the type of activity we will see more of as we go forward,” Corrado said. “It’s not a difficult thing to do.”
To contact the reporter on this story: Greg Giroux in Washington at firstname.lastname@example.org
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