Federal Politics

Published — May 8, 2014 Updated — June 3, 2014 at 11:29 pm ET

GOP civil war rages in Senate primary battles

Conservative groups spent $10 million bashing Republican candidates so far this year

Introduction

Hard-line conservatives have become Democrats’ unwitting allies in the battle to control Congress.

Conservative groups have together spent nearly $3 attacking Republican candidates for every $1 spent slamming Democrats, according to a Center for Public Integrity analysis of federal independent expenditure disclosures.

In all, from Jan. 1 through Tuesday, identifiably conservative political action committees, super PACs and nonprofit groups have spent about $10 million advocating for the defeat of Republican congressional candidates in advertisements and other communications.

Identifiably liberal groups, meanwhile, have spent next to nothing attacking their own, instead spending millions of dollars either bashing Republican hopefuls or gushing about fellow Democrats through television, radio and Internet ads.

Such a dichotomy illustrates the persistent family feud between mainstream Republicans and their tea party-affiliated cousins, many of whom have forced GOP incumbents into bitter — and expensive — primary fights because they believe they’re not conservative enough.

It also provides a curious twist to the initially Republican-benefiting Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission decision of 2010, which led to the creation of super PACs and freed politically active nonprofit groups and union organizations to raise and spend unlimited amounts of money to spend supporting or opposing political candidates.

During the 2010 midterm elections, conservative organizations hardly spent any money opposing Republican candidates, federal records from the first four months of that year indicate.

Tea party groups of today are unapologetic about their attacks on numerous Republican torchbearers. They say the candidates they support are bona fide conservatives better positioned to defeat Democrats in November’s general election.

Club for Growth Action, the super PAC arm of the Club for Growth, has so far invested $2 million into attacks on several incumbent Republicans, including Sen. Thad Cochran, R-Miss.; Rep. Mike Simpson, R-Idaho; and Shane Osborn, a former Nebraska state treasurer who’s running for U.S. Senate.

Club for Growth Action seeks to involve itself in contests “we feel that our resources can make an impact on the outcome of the race,” spokesman Barney Keller said.

So far, tea party groups are off to a lousy start. Tea party-backed candidates failed Tuesday in a long-shot primary bid to unseat House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, and win North Carolina’s U.S. Senate primary. But they still sought to find a silver lining.

“Whether we win or lose, the other side has had to campaign on our issues during these primaries,” said Russ Walker, national political director for FreedomWorks for America, which has this year spent more than $118,000 on advertisements and related expenditures primarily attacking Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and Cochran. “Our ultimate goal is to pass policy that’s lowering taxes and making government smaller.”

Officially, Republican Party officials are floating above the fray, and per usual, not endorsing candidates in primaries.

“Voters in each congressional district know best as to who will make the best general election candidate,” National Republican Congressional Committee spokeswoman Andrea Bozek said.

GOP brass are, however, hardly thrilled with their midterm election lot, regardless of their early success repelling tea party challenges.

Three national-level party officials not authorized to speak on behalf of the party said they’re particularly concerned that protracted primary fights — a la Mitt Romney in 2012 — will hurt the party’s ultimate midterm congressional nominees by bleeding them of time and resources that could be better spent skewering Democrats.

One cited Cochran’s June 3 primary fight with state Sen. Chris McDaniel, who’s enjoyed heavy support from groups such as FreedomWorks for America and the Senate Conservatives Fund, as particularly troubling.

Democrats, for their part, are content to let conservatives continue to supply ammunition to its circular firing squad.

“Anytime you have people spending large amounts of money to attack their own, you have a smile on your face,” said Peter Fenn, president of Fenn Communications Group, whose many Democrat-supporting roles include working as a surrogate spokesman for the presidential campaigns of Al Gore, John Kerry and Barack Obama. “You have what I like to call the cuckoo caucus going against hardened conservatives. It shows how extreme the Republican Party has become, and that helps Democrats.”

Said Matt Thornton, spokesman for Democrat-backing super PAC House Majority PAC: “Pass the popcorn. It’s indicative that the Republican Party is at war with itself… the longer they’re spending money against each other, the less time they’re spending against us.”

Mainstream conservative organizations are responding with big money of their own to parry tea party-affiliated groups’ offensives on established Republicans.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, for example, has so far spent $1 million on attack ads targeting tea party challengers. This includes $500,000 against Cochran primary challenger McDaniel in Mississippi and $200,000 against attorney Bryan Smith, who’s battling incumbent Rep. Mike Simpson in Idaho.

The U.S. Chamber spent another $300,000 against attorney Woody White, who lost Tuesday to former state Sen. David Rouzer in North Carolina’s 7th Congressional District GOP primary.

It’s also spend another $3.6 million through early May on positive ads boosting the images of several GOP candidates, including those such as McConnell, Simpson and U.S. Sen. candidate Thom Tillis in North Carolina who faced, or are facing, competitive primaries.

Chamber officials didn’t respond to inquiries Wednesday. But spokeswoman Blair Latoff Holmes told the Center for Public Integrity recently that the U.S. Chamber would “support free enterprise candidates aggressively and early” and that such support “is predicated on where the candidates stand on a broad range of issues that are important to the business community.”

In the Cochran vs. McDaniel primary, a super PAC formed by Cochran supporters and calling itself Mississippi Conservatives has spent $600,000 on ads pummeling McDaniel.

The YG Network, a 501(c)(4) nonprofit led by a former deputy chief of staff to House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., spent $50,000 on phone calls and mailers opposing White in the North Carolina.

Super PAC American Crossroads, founded in part by GOP strategist Karl Rove, has yet to launch negative attacks against Republicans. But it has involved itself in Republican intramurals spending more than $1.8 million on positive ads that mostly urged North Carolina Republicans to vote Tuesday for Tillis over his tea party rivals.

Tillis won handily, and now faces Sen. Kay Hagan, the Democratic incumbent who’s already enjoying significant air cover from the likes of liberal super PAC Senate Majority PAC, which didn’t wait for Tillis to win his primary and has already lit him up with more than $2.4 million in negative ads.

“We saw the need to boost the name ID of the candidates we support while also holding the Democrats accountable for their records,” American Crossroads spokesman Paul Lindsay said of his super PAC’s strategy.

In addition to these “independent expenditures” — messages that overtly promote or oppose federal political candidate — groups such as Koch brothers-backed Americans for Prosperity have sponsored a slew of so-called “issue ads” that mention federal-level politicians but don’t advocate for or against their election or defeat.

Groups sponsoring broadcasted issue ads aren’t required to disclose how much they cost or where they’re appearing, unless they’re run 30 days before a primary or 60 days before a general election.

While both liberal and conservative groups will eventually fight each other full time, expect the right to remain at odds with itself for some time yet.

Republicans’ contested U.S. Senate primary in Nebraska isn’t until May 13, and the Kentucky primary, featuring McConnell and opponent Matt Bevin, is May 20. The winner will face well-funded Democrat Alison Lundergan Grimes.

And it won’t be until Sept. 9 until the final GOP congressional primaries are conducted.

One, in New Hampshire, features former U.S. Sen. Scott Brown, R-Mass. Brown is in no way a tea party favorite. He faces accusations of carpetbagging and must fend off primary challenges from former U.S. Sen. Bob Smith, R-N.H., former state Sen. Jim Rubens and conservative activist Karen Testerman. The state of 1.3 million residents is already drawing super PAC interest.

Read more in Federal Politics

Share this article

Join the conversation

Show Comments

11
Leave a Reply

avatar
9 Comment threads
2 Thread replies
1 Followers
 
Most reacted comment
Hottest comment thread
8 Comment authors
SOUTH JERSEYTed SiroisMark SullivanTom LarkinAnonymous Recent comment authors
  Subscribe  
newest oldest most voted
Notify of
Mark Sullivan
Guest
Mark Sullivan

Trump needs to conduct these activities because the entire MSM media, excluding Fox, is campaigning against him 24/7/365.

Didn’t Monica’s boyfriend’s wife and various criminal enterprises outspend Trump by almost 2-1?

CapitalistRoader
Guest
CapitalistRoader

Why wouldn’t he get an early start on fund raising? Hillary outspent him two-to-one in 2016. The Dem’s are the party of big money. The President knows this and is attempting to get a jump on it. Of course the Dem candidate will outspend him in 2020 so it’s only rational that he starts fund raising now.

George Young
Guest
George Young

Oh brother. We just 8 years of the Campaigner – in – Chief. Where was this journalistic rectal thermometer then. Just another article about 2000 words too long that merely takes another slap at Trump for something he far from initiated.

j stevenson
Guest
j stevenson

The big difference between Trump and all the rest is his refusing to accept funds from lobbyists, so they don’t have the White House access they are used to. These are the donors who buy the presidency and are as pixxed off that he won the election as are the media and the Dems. Lobbyists have never been shut out of the WH and Trump has told them he is not for sale.

Anonymous
Guest
Anonymous

Trump needs to be impeached and tossed in prison. Then have the key thrown away so he will never be free. Then he can see how it feels not to have freedom.

Mark Sullivan
Guest
Mark Sullivan

Thank you for the usual insightful leftist low IQ Snowflake response.

barney
Guest

hes not imprisoning them hes sending them back to their country chill tf out

SOUTH JERSEY
Guest
SOUTH JERSEY

WHY DONT YOU HAVE FREEDOM?

Tom Larkin
Guest
Tom Larkin

First, something positive. I was happy to learn of empirical information in article. BUT, the article was so slanted against President Trump as to be deemed fake news (“Perhaps Trump just lied.” (Two different issues)). The article mentions that President Trump raised over $67 million, but ended 2018 with $19 million. President Trump spent over $40 million 2016 and 2017. President Trump conducted 57 political rallies. The article notes the hats and T-shirts sold, but NEVER MENTIONS THE INCREASE IN THE NUMBER OF REPUBLICAN SENATORS during a mid-term election that lost the House and the number of political rallies in… Read more »

Ted Sirois
Guest
Ted Sirois

At least Trump is getting donations from willing donors. Fresh from his first election, Obama used billions of our children’s tax dollars to save thousands of union jobs in the car industry and bailed out the banks and many Wall Street businesses. This secured his source of reelection funds for his reelection four years later.

South Jersey
Guest
South Jersey

TRUMP 2020; IS AN AMAZINGLY SMART MAN! VERY ORIGINAL & CREATIVE. I AM HAPPY TO HAVE HIS AS POTUS.

SOUTH JERSEY
Guest
SOUTH JERSEY

THIS ARTICLE WAS OBVIOUSLY WRITTEN BY, A TRUMP-HATE-GROUP. THAT FEELS; IT IS NOT NORMAL TO BE SUCCESSFUL WITH YOUR OWN BRAND NAME. WHEN, IF FACT, IT IS NORMAL! >>>>> THIS IS >>> FAKE NEWS!!! <<<< ie: A PACK-OF-LIES; SPUN INTO; DEFAMATION OF CHARACTER. FOR A SINISTER-AGENDA OF; FASCIST DEMOCRATIC SOCIALIST, COUP D'ETAT

David
Guest
David

Are you on some kind of drugs? Writing in caps makes me think that you are grumpy old fart or a uneducated hillbilly.