Although Sen. Rand Paul ended his presidential bid four months ago, a pro-Paul super PAC sounds particularly presidential in a new TV ad — this time, in slamming likely Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton.
The ad, sponsored by America’s Liberty PAC, borrows from Donald Trump’s playbook in calling Clinton “crooked Hillary” and linking her to Kentucky Democrat Jim Gray, who is challenging Paul for his U.S. Senate seat. (Paul is seeking re-election.)
“Crooked Hillary isn’t alone,” the ad’s narrator says. “Jim Gray backs Hillary because they’re the same kind of liberal, big government, coal-hating politicians.”
The ad is airing throughout Kentucky. It is the first significant TV ad buy of the election that features a presidential candidate and is designed to influence a congressional race.
The ad’s sponsor
America’s Liberty PAC formed in 2012. The super PAC initially sponsored an ad campaign attacking Democrat Sen. Claire McCaskill of Missouri. Then, in 2014, it attempted to boost the ultimately doomed U.S. Senate bid of North Carolina Republican Greg Bannon.
In 2015, America’s Liberty PAC came out full force to support the presidential campaign of Paul, who consistently trailed in polls and primary elections. He dropped out of the race in February, only picking up a lone delegate during the primaries.
As a super PAC, America’s Liberty PAC can raise and spend money in unlimited amounts.
But unlike the moneyed super PACs supporting other Republican presidential candidates, America’s Liberty PAC collected a modest $4.6 million during Paul’s presidential run. For comparison: Super PAC behemoth Right to Rise USA, the pro-Jeb Bush operation, boasted a $121 million fundraising haul before Bush himself flamed out.
Who’s behind it?
The mastermind behind America’s Liberty PAC is John Tate, a longtime adviser to Paul. Tate managed the 2012 presidential campaign of then Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas, Rand Paul’s father.
A federal jury in May found Tate guilty of public corruption, including falsifying campaign expenditure reports and making false statements. The case stems from 2012, when Tate and other members of Ron Paul’s campaign team allegedly paid an Iowa state legislator $73,000 to endorse Ron Paul for president, and then concealed the transactions from the Federal Election Commission.
Ron Paul campaign manager Dimitri Kesari and campaign chairman Jesse Benton were also convicted. Benton now helps lead Great America PAC, a super PAC supporting Trump.
During Paul’s presidential run, his anti-Wall Street rhetoric likely scared off some prominent conservative donors who could have helped America’s Liberty PAC raise more than the $4.6 million it did.
“We will not cut one penny from the safety net until we’ve cut every penny from corporate welfare,” Paul said in January 2015 in response to President Barack Obama’s State of the Union address.
Still, Paul’s super PAC benefitted from numerous big-time donors, including investors, CEOs and venture capitalists.
The top donor to America’s Liberty PAC was Jeff Yass, a managing director of global investment firm Susquehanna International Group. Yass contributed about $1.6 million to America’s Liberty PAC. He also split $1.5 million between two other pro-Paul super PACs: Concerned American Voters and Purple PAC.
In September, Yass also gave $100,000 to anti-tax Club for Growth’s super PAC, which has spent more than $9.7 million on ads attacking Trump, according to federal campaign finance filings.
John Mackey, co-founder of grocery store Whole Foods, is also a Paul supporter and donor. A self-described “ethical vegan,” Mackey donated $50,000 to America’s Liberty PAC and another $232,000 to Concerned American Voters.
“I reject the premise that liberal and libertarian values are necessarily in conflict,” Mackey told Mother Jones in 2013.
America’s Liberty PAC spent about $1.7 million directly advocating for a Paul presidency, according to federal campaign finance filings.
A portion of that was spent on TV advertising, with the group airing roughly 340 TV ads targeting voters in Iowa and New Hampshire, according to according to a Center for Public Integrity review of data from Kantar Media/CMAG. America’s Liberty PAC ad campaign in those two states began in August 2015 — six months before voters there took to the polls.
America’s Liberty PAC also paid Tate, president of the super PAC, more than $195,000.
The super PAC has about $400,000 remaining in its account as of March 31, according to federal disclosures. It is scheduled to next disclose its finances in mid-July.
Why it matters
America’s Liberty PAC will certainly not be the only presidential super PAC shifting its focus to down-ballot races.
Mainstream Republican support for Trump as the presumptive GOP nominee is tenuous, at best.
Take Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan, who offered Trump a lukewarm endorsement only to days later call Trump’s comments about a Mexican-American judge “the textbook definition of a racist comment.”
Some Republican operatives are instead scrambling to maintain control of both the U.S. Senate and U.S. House.
Consider: Groups tied to billionaires Charles and David Koch have begun reserving $30 million in advertising in key U.S. Senate races. The Kochs’ political network has effectively ignored Trump and has not yet played a meaningful role in the presidential race.
Our Principles PAC, a conservative super PAC dedicated to attacking Trump, has also indicated that it will support down-ballot candidates who its organizers believe are endangered by Trump’s presidential bid.
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