A Conservative Silence That Speaks Volumes

The Senate Conservatives Fund isn’t helping Republican Steve Lonegan in New Jersey.

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FILE - This Aug. 13, 2013 file photo shows Republican U.S. Senate candidate Steve Lonegan making his victory speech after defeating Alieta Eck for the nomination in the special election primary in Secaucus, N.J. Democratic Newark, N.J., Mayor Cory Booker is accusing Lonegan of making bigoted comments following a newspaper interview in which Booker was ambiguous about his sexuality.

In less than 10 days, voters in New Jersey will go to the polls in a special election to pick their next U.S. senator and the expected anointment of Newark Mayor Cory Booker by the Democrats isn't going as planned. A key question, though, is why is it that an organization "dedicated to electing strong conservative leaders to the United States Senate" appears to be entirely missing in action?

The New York Times leads in a front-page story today that Booker is running a "sputtering, unfocused" campaign while his Republican opponent, former Bogota Mayor Steve Lonegan, has relentlessly "mocked Mr. Booker as a celebrity-obsessed dilettante who can rarely be found in the city he governs."   

It should not be overlooked that despite New Jersey's Democratic-tilt, Lonegan has been gaining in the polls by campaigning tirelessly as a principled conservative. A former state director for the conservative Americans for Prosperity, Lonegan supports defunding and repealing Obamacare, freezing spending, protecting the Second Amendment and defending the sanctity of life.  

He is, in virtually every regard, exactly the type of candidate that the Senate Conservatives Fund – a SuperPAC founded by former South Carolina Senator Jim DeMint and now run by his former staff – pledged to support and help elect.  

[Check out our collection of political cartoons on Super PACs.]

When DeMint announced last year that he was changing the Funds' designation from a "leadership PAC" to a SuperPAC – which allows it to raise unlimited contributions from individuals and corporations – Executive Director Matt Hoskins trumpeted publicly that SCF"supports underdog candidates who have been overlooked or even opposed by the Washington establishment."

Yet, even as the Times reports today that Booker ally Mayor Michael Bloomberg will start spending more than $1 million on TV ads to help prop-up Booker, amid what Lonegan's polling shows to be a tightening race, the Senate Conservatives Fund is curiously nowhere to be found.  

A review of its Federal Election Commission records suggests the SCF hasn't spent a dime to support Lonegan or to hold Booker accountable. In fact, even setting money aside given that Booker is still favored to win, the Senate Conservatives Fund doesn't appear to have issued a single fundraising appeal, a single press release, a single Facebook post or even a simple 140-character Twitter message regarding the New Jersey Senate race.   This stands in contrast to: the National Republican Senatorial Committee – where I served as communications director – which has hammered Booker in press releases and social media; respected leaders like Sen. Rand Paul and Govs. Rick Perry and Chris Christie, who have all campaigned with Lonegan recently; and other conservative SuperPACs like the American Commitment Action Fund. Meanwhile, conservative leaders like Club for Growth board member Frayda Levin have raised money for Lonegan and he's been profiled by respected conservative publications like National Review.

[See a collection of political cartoons on the Democratic Party.]

SCF's absence in New Jersey is even more striking when you consider that they've engaged in past races where the odds against victory were far greater. In 2010, for example, SCF embarked on a fundraising campaign in support of Delaware's Christine O'Donnell with the goal of "doubling the amount of coordinated funds the national party had decided not to invest in this critical race."  

And in 2012, SCF's Hoskins issued a fundraising appeal for Missouri's Todd Akin that similarly attacked the "Republican establishment" for not helping Akin. Ironically, just weeks earlier Hoskins had told Politico:

Akin isn't weak because he's too conservative. He's weak because he's too liberal on spending and earmarks.

Apparently conservative principles can fall by the wayside when there's a fundraising opportunity.  

[See a collection of political cartoons on Congress.]

Unfortunately for Lonegan, however, it appears that unless he can manufacture an opportunity for SCF to invoke its phony "us versus the establishment" straw-man fundraising gambit, SCF will not even acknowledge him. 

That's not to suggest, of course, that SCF has been sitting on its hands in recent months.  As I wrote last month, SCF has been targeting conservative Republicans in attack ads and national fundraising appeals over the fantastical fight to "Defund Obamacare."  (To their credit, and perhaps under pressure from donors, they did just announce a new ad campaign targeting generic Democrats, but which also directs viewers to their fundraising website.)  

In Kentucky, SCF has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars attacking Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell – who had a 100 percent American Conservative Union vote rating last year. In fact, in a recent fundraising appeal touting McConnell's primary opponent, SCF called it a "David versus Goliath" race – ironically the same term many ascribed to the New Jersey Senate race just a few weeks ago.  

In Arizona, where just last year DeMint said, "[N]obody has done more to advance the cause of freedom than Jeff Flake," SCF rans ads attacking this longtime conservative Republican but ignoring his Democratic neighbors Mark Udall in Colorado and Tom Udall in New Mexico – both of whom are up for re-election next year and both of whom were deciding votes on Obamacare. 

[See a collection of political cartoons on Obamacare.]

And in North Carolina, SCF ran an attack ad against Republican Sen. Richard Burr, who actually had a stronger conservative voting record two years ago than DeMint himself, and not against his liberal Democrat counterpart Kay Hagan, who, unlike Burr, is also up for re-election next year.  

So if its not fighting for conservatives like Lonegan or holding liberal Democrats like Booker accountable, how else is SCF spending the millions of dollars it's raising off the backs of grassroots conservatives?  A piece last week by the Wall Street Journal's Kimberly Strassel is illuminating – she writes in part:

The donations, sent by average Americans, sometimes go for the Washington trappings these groups decry. SCF, a small operation, in recent months has spent $26,000 on an interior decorator. It has spent another $38,000 on rent.

[Read the U.S. News Debate: Should There Be Less Disclosure in Campaign Finance?]

Strassel goes on to write:

[W]hat everyone has heretofore been too polite to say is that this defund exercise is (in part) the oldest of Washington stories–fundraising, and power.

But conservative voters don't need to take Strassel's – or my own – claim on that one.  

Just ask the Senate Conservatives Fund what its done for conservative Steve Lonegan in New Jersey lately. If you're one of its donors, the silence may surprise you.  

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  • Updated 11/5/13: Brian Walsh remains a paid adviser to the National Republican Senatorial Committee.