In a sharp departure from typical campaign practice, South Carolina GOP Sen. Jim DeMint has used a leadership political action committee to spend $1.5 million dollars on behalf of 15 conservative Senate candidates in this year's midterm elections.
DeMint, one of the Senate's most conservative members, is using campaign finance laws to legally get around traditional limits on how much individual politicians spend supporting other candidates. In doing so, he is setting himself up as a key benefactor and king-maker in what figures to be a core of new senators who value conservative ideology at least as much as party. DeMint "wants to be the leader of what he hopes to be the dominant faction in his party," says Curtis Gans, director of American University's Center for the Study of the American Electorate.
While it is not uncommon for elected officials to use leadership PACs--special fundraising committees separate from their personal campaign committees--to support like-minded candidates, an individual politician directing so much money to support a relative handful of candidates is extremely unusual. It illustrates that in a cycle in which DeMint has very visibly steered a political course separate from and often at odds with his party's leadership, he has also innovated how politicians spread campaign cash.
Politicians often set up leadership PACs to amass money and donate to other politicians. But because PACs can only contribute $10,000 per election cycle to candidates ($5,000 each for the primary and general elections), leadership PACs traditionally spread their money widely and evenly, diluting the impact of an individual $5,000 or $10,000 contribution in congressional races that can cost hundreds of thousands or even millions of dollars.
But while DeMint's Senate Conservative Fund leadership PAC has contributed $55,000 directly to candidates this cycle, the bulk of its spending has been on so-called independent expenditures, which are not subject to legal limits. Independent expenditures are political communications that an organization makes in support of or against specific candidates, without coordinating with those candidates or their opponents. DeMint's PAC has spent around $1.5 million this cycle advocating for the election of 15 candidates, according to his PAC's spokesman. In at least six of the cases, the PAC spent more than $100,000 for the candidates, including over $212,000 for Nevada GOP Senate nominee Sharron Angle, more than $208,000 for Colorado GOP Ken Buck, $137,000 for Florida GOP nominee Marco Rubio, almost $122,000 for Indiana state Sen. Marlin Stutzman, who made a failed bid for the Hoosier Republican Senate nomination, and more than $117,000 on Utah GOP nominee Mike Lee, who is in line to succeed Sen. Bob Bennett, who lost his renomination bid at the state party convention in May (though DeMint's PAC did not spend money on Lee's behalf until after Bennett had been eliminated). This money has mostly been spent on E-mail list usage, as well as Web and radio advertising. Almost all of DeMint's chosen Senate candidates share three major similarities: they tend to be more conservative than other Republican candidates, they have all received Tea Party support on the local or national level, and, with one exception, none of them are incumbents. In all, the PAC has spent more than $10,000--the amount it would be legally permitted to contribute directly--on behalf of 13 of the 15 candidates.
Note: Figures reflect most recent filings with the Federal Election Commission; according to a Senate Conservative Fund spokesman, the PAC has spent roughly $500,000 more on independent expenditures since those filings.
|1. Sharron Angle||Nevada||$212,374||party’s nominee|
|2. Ken Buck||Colorado||$208,342||party’s nominee|
|3. Marco Rubio||Florida||$137,042||party’s nominee|
|4. Marlin Stutzman||Indiana||$121,808||lost primary|
|5. Mike Lee||Utah||$117,523||party’s nominee|
|6. Christine O’Donnell||Delaware||$108,047||party’s nominee|
|7. Ron Johnson||Wisconsin||$52,016||party’s nominee|
|8. Pat Toomey||Pennsylvania||$37,068||party’s nominee|
|9. Joe Miller||Alaska||$35,840||party’s nominee|
|10. Chuck DeVore||California||$33,776||lost primary|
|11. Dino Rossi||Washington||$31,709||party’s nominee|
|12. Rand Paul||Kentucky||$30,480||party’s nominee|
|13. Tom Coburn||Oklahoma||$13,136||party’s nominee|
|14. Michael Williams||Texas||$6,404||did not end up running|
|15. Ovide Lamontagne||New Hampshire||$1,077||lost primary|
In an earlier version of this story, Republican lawmaker Mike Castle's current office was misidentified. He is a member of the House of Representatives.