Hours after Navy SEALs took out Osama bin Laden, President Barack Obama said the commandos "exemplify the professionalism, patriotism, and unparalleled courage of those who serve our country." But one former SEAL-turned-Republican politician doesn't buy it, and he's targeting Obama's re-election bid.
Republican Montana State Sen. Ryan Zinke has launched a political action committee, Special Operations For America, that states its top goal as advocating "for the election of Mitt Romney and like-minded candidates who want to bring true leadership back to Washington and who believe in permanent and enduring American Exceptionalism."
The organization vows to promote "leadership that does not apologize and bow to the world for America's greatness or politicize military operations for political gain," according to a SOFA press release. "SOFA stands against the core threats to national security created and unchecked by the Obama administration."
Zinke—who was two-time member of the elite SEAL Team Six—says Obama "has failed and he is jeopardizing the safety of our troops, their families and our national security for political gain." The retired Navy commander also criticizes the president for allegedly exposing the identity of some U.S. commandos and leaking classified information; Zinke questions the Obama administration's proposal to raise some military health care fees.
Zinke set up Special Operations for America as a so-called super PAC, according to Security and Exchange Commission documents. Unlike traditional PACs, the designation allows SOFA to raise unlimited amounts of campaign cash, though its activities—like media ad buys—cannot be coordinated with any specific campaign.
Though the anti-Obama organization has no ceiling on how much it can raise, SEC documents shows it has so far collected just $60, and has $57.66 on hand. If Zinke wants his super PAC to make an impact on the 2012 presidential election, here are three things he and other Special Forces For America officials should do:
Find Wealthy Donors. As an issue-oriented super PAC, Zinke's group should examine how other PACs that are centered around one hot-button issue found political success, says Bob Biersack of the Center for Responsive Politics. "Over time, some of these issue-centered PACs have gotten quite big and sophisticated," Biersack says. "A key is that people develop a real relationship with the organization because of the issue as we've seen with abortion and environmental things. This model can be pretty effective."
Issue-focused PACs typically "raise small amounts of money from lots of different people," Biersack says.
But there is a better way to move the political needle.
"If you find very wealthy individuals who feel strongly about the issue, we've seen a very strong impact from certain PACs," says Biersack. "From Israel, to some social issues, to PACs that supported Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum. It can happen that way."
Hire Skilled Pols. With the proliferation of super PACs and a huge infusion of campaign cash, just making a splash by launching a political action committee via a press release with fire-breathing rhetoric isn't enough.
After all, some of the biggest Republican- and Democratic-leaning PACs already have contributed over $2 million dollars to various federal candidates. The Operating Engineers Union PAC, which has donated 81 percent of its raised funds to Democrats, has raised $2.3 million; Honeywell International's PAC, which has donated 61 percent of its funds to GOP candidates, has raised just under that amount, according to Federal Election Commission data.
That means grass roots groups like SOFA must be skilled at political maneuvering. "One model we've seen be successful for smaller PACs is that the people involved have to have a good reputation and credibility with running good political campaigns," says Biersack.
Don't Forget Swing Voters. Spend a half hour studying SOFA's website, and those of its partner organizations, and it quickly becomes clear just how partisan it is. Just take one statement attributed to Zinke himself: "It's time to stop President Obama from negotiating away our freedoms and our ability to win on the battlefield. ... It is a call of duty to take back America from a commander in chief that is incapable of understanding the sacrifices that have been made for the values that have made America great."
That kind of language is unlikely to attract many Democratic voters or campaign contributions from Democrats, but it will help rile up the Republican base, and political pundits say the turnout of each party's base will be key. And political experts also say independent swing voters in key states will play a sizable role. So groups like Special Operators For America would be wise to avoid preaching to their own choirs.
John T. Bennett covers national security and foreign policy for U.S. News & World Report. You can contact him at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter.