GOP groups plan record $1 billion blitz

By MIKE ALLEN and JIM VANDEHEI / Politico / May 30, 2012  4:34 AM EDT

Republican super PACs and other outside groups shaped by a loose network of prominent conservatives – including Karl Rove, the Koch brothers and Tom Donohue of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce – plan to spend roughly $1 billion on November’s elections for the White House and control of Congress, according to officials familiar with the groups’ internal operations.

That total includes previously undisclosed plans for newly aggressive spending by the Koch brothers, who are steering funding to build sophisticated, county-by-county operations in key states. POLITICO has learned that Koch-related organizations plan to spend about $400 million ahead of the 2012 elections – twice what they had been expected to commit.

Just the spending linked to the Koch network is more than the $370 million that John McCain raised for his entire presidential campaign four years ago. And the $1 billion total surpasses the $750 million that Barack Obama, one of the most prolific fundraisers ever, collected for his 2008 campaign.

Restore Our Future, the super PAC supporting Mitt Romney, proved its potency by spending nearly $50 million in the primaries. Now able to entice big donors with a neck-and-neck general election, the group is likely to meet its new goal of spending $100 million more.

And American Crossroads and the affiliated Crossroads GPS, the groups that Rove and Ed Gillespie helped conceive and raise cash for, are expected to ante up $300 million, giving the two-year-old organization one of the election’s loudest voices.

“The intensity on the right is white-hot,” said Steven Law, president of American Crossroads and Crossroads GPS. “We just can’t leave anything in the locker room. And there is a greater willingness to cooperate and share information among outside groups on the center-right.”

In targeted states, the groups’ activities will include TV, radio and digital advertising; voter-turnout work; mail and phone appeals; and absentee- and early-ballot drives.

The $1 billion in outside money is in addition to the traditional party apparatus – the Romney campaign and the Republican National Committee – which together intend to raise at least $800 million.

The Republican financial plans are unlike anything seen before in American politics. If the GOP groups hit their targets, they likely could outspend their liberal adversaries by at least two-to-one, according to officials involved in the budgeting for outside groups on the right and left.

By contrast, Priorities USA Action, the super PAC supporting President Barack Obama’s reelection, has struggled to raise money, and now hopes to spend about $100 million. Obama’s initial reluctance to embrace such groups constrained fundraising on the Democratic side, which is now trying to make up for lost time.

The consequences of the conservative resurgence in fundraising are profound. If it holds, Romney and his allies will likely outraise and outspend Obama this fall, a once-unthinkable proposition. The surge has increased the urgency of the Democrats’ thus-far futile efforts to blunt the effects of a pair of 2010 federal court rulings – including the Supreme Court’s seminal Citizens United decision – that opened the floodgates for limitless spending, and prompted Obama to flip-flop on his resistance to super PACs on the left.

“Progressives can’t match all the money going into the system right now because of Citizens United, so we have to have a program that empowers the worker movement,” Podhorzer said.

Much of the public focus has been on how these outside groups will tilt the balance of power in fundraising at the presidential level. But POLITICO has learned that Republicans involved with the groups see the combined efforts playing out just as aggressively at the congressional level, in below-the-radar efforts designed to damage Democratic candidates for the House and Senate.

The officials said that if Romney looks weak in the final stretch, the vast majority of the money could be aimed at winning back the Senate. Republicans need four seats to do that, if Obama is re-elected.

Republicans have taken one big lesson away from campaigns conducted to date in 2011 and 2012: outside money can be the difference-maker in elections.