UPDATED: 11:40 a.m.
By Dan Christensen, BrowardBulldog.org
Federal election records show that money was spent between Sept. 28 and Oct. 16 on a television and direct mail ad blitz supporting Rubio and opposing his closest challenger, independent Florida Gov. Charlie Crist. Election Day is Nov. 2.
“The money coming from these outside interest groups is unprecedented overall, and especially in the Senate races like that of Florida,” said Sheila Krumholz, executive director of the nonprofit, nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics in Washington, D.C.
Election records show that the Rove-backed “superPAC” American Crossroads recently has begun wading into key House races.
On Friday, it reported spending $215,616 to produce and place television ads opposing Ron Klein, the South Florida incumbent Democrat who’s locked in a bitter race for the 22nd Congressional District in Broward and Palm Beach with Republican and Tea Party favorite Allan West.
Today, the Federal Election Commission posted 24-hour expenditure notices filed Saturday by the independent conservative group that show it spent an additional $809,000 last week on postage, printing and production to boost Rubio.
American Crossroads is financed largely by a handful of extremely wealthy out-of-state businessmen. Broward Bulldog reported Sept. 29 the group spent nearly $250,000 pushing Rubio to Florida voters in direct mailings.
American Crossroads, which initially targeted 11 Senate races across the country, reported on Oct. 8 spending an additional $267,000 on direct mail and a phone bank in support of Rubio.
A super PAC, legally known as an “independent expenditure-only committee,” is a new breed of 527 tax-exempt organization that can raise unlimited amounts of money from corporations and individuals to support or oppose candidates.
Now, a more secretive arm of American Crossroads has begun to spend in Florida’s Senate race. American Crossroads Grassroots Policy Strategies reported Oct. 6 that it had paid $354,000 for television spots supporting Rubio. American Crossroads GPS’s Federal Election Commission filings disclosed on Oct. 12 that it spent an additional $354,000 on TV spots attacking ex-Republican Crist.
News of heavy spending by the American Crossroads groups follows an Associated Press report last week that confident Republican Party officials were canceling $4 million in planned TV ads for Rubio so they can spend the money elsewhere.
American Crossroads GPS is a 501(c) (4) tax-exempt “social welfare” organization. That is, it is a not-for-profit corporation whose primary purpose under the federal tax code is not supposed to be political.
Such groups are attractive not only because they can raise unlimited amounts of money, they also offer anonymity to donors. Under the law, 501(c) groups generally do not have to disclose who is funding them.
“I can’t tell you how many times I get calls from someone who says, ‘We have a client who wants to spend $250,000 to defeat Tom Jones. How do we do that without having their name known?”’ said a Washington, D.C. campaign finance lawyer who spoke on condition of anonymity.
Individuals and groups on both the left and right – unions, corporations, trade associations – are taking advantage of the veil offered by 501(c) organizations. But “the vast majority of outside entities spending money independently on this race are conservative,” said Krumholz. She identified American Crossroads and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce as the biggest players.
The New York Times reported last week that Mel Sembler, a shopping mall tycoon in St. Petersburg who is close to Rove, said wealthy donors had written six and seven figure checks to Crossroads GPS.
“I think most people are very comfortable giving anonymously,” Sembler told the Times. “They want to be able to be helpful but not be seen by the public as taking sides.”
Rove, President George W. Bush’s chief political strategist, is a part-time Florida resident who owns a $900,000 home in Rosemary Beach in the state’s Panhandle. He teamed with former Bush White House attorney and Republican National Convention chairman Ed Gillespie earlier this year to create both American Crossroads groups.
The Times also reported last week that Republicans close to American Crossroads and Crossroads GPS said they already have met their goal to raise $52 million, and could raise as much as $70 million to back their candidates nationwide before Election Day.
WashingtonPost.com political blogger Greg Sargent reported the next day that independent fact-checking groups have found many ads put out by Rove’s groups to be false or misleading. Sargent cited a number of examples, but none from Florida’s Senate race.
Earlier this month, two nonpartisan campaign watchdog groups, Democracy 21 and The Campaign Legal Center, called on the Internal Revenue Service to investigate Crossroads GPS tax status because its primary purpose is actually supporting or opposing political candidates.
In Florida to date, Rove’s PACS have ignored Democratic nominee Kendrick Meek, the Miami Congressman who trails both Rubio and Crist in the polls.