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Veteran Democratic Party operative Craig Varoga has quietly emerged as a significant player in the universe of outside political groups that during election years pump tens of millions of dollars into ads and get–out-the-vote drives to help members in tough races.

Patriot Majority, a 527 that Varoga set up in 2005, works closely with — and gets about half its funding — from several prominent unions such as the AFL-CIO and the SEIU. “We get money from all the major unions,” Varoga, 53, told the Center, adding that his group also has close political ties with America Votes, a broad coalition of some 400 liberal groups and unions.

Late last year, Varoga says that he decided to expand the group’s fundraising and political muscle by establishing an allied PAC, Patriot Majority PAC. Varoga timed the launch to capitalize on upcoming Supreme Court case Citizens United v. FEC and an advisory ruling that the Federal Election Commission was poised to release in late 2009. Together these decisions have given the green light to PACs to raise and spend unlimited funds and to engage in direct advocacy ads which urge voters to support or oppose specific candidates.

Patriot Majority this year has been spending very liberally in Nevada to protect Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. By Election Day, Varoga expects that his two groups will have run around $8 million of ads to help Reid triumph over GOP challenger and Tea Party favorite Sharron Angle.

In the next few weeks, Varoga says his groups will pump millions more into another Senate race and a handful of House contests to help Democrats some of whom are under fire from well-heeled GOP outside groups.

Varoga declined to identify these races, but said that “we’re taking a very close look at races where we can help endangered incumbents or where the race has become unexpectedly close in the last month.”

Overall, the 527 and the new PAC are expected to raise and spend about $12.5 million, some $2 million less than what the older group poured into the 2008 campaign, Varoga says. The lower totals are mainly due to a tougher fundraising climate. The lengthy recession and the generally healthy financial state of the Democratic Party committees — compared to their GOP counterparts — have crimped fundraising, he says.

By contrast, Varoga sees the GOP independent groups this year mounting a new and more potent outside effort than ever before. “The Republicans have privatized what the RNC should be doing,” says Varoga, a Texas resident and Princeton alumnus. “The GOP has deliberately short-circuited Michael Steele due to the RNC meltdown.”

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