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Context of 'May 16, 2012: ’Independent’ Republican Political Organization to Spend $25 Million on Anti-Obama Ads'

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American Energy Alliance logo.American Energy Alliance logo. [Source: NJI Media]The press learns that a recent $3.6 million television ad campaign attacking President Obama on gasoline prices was funded by the oil billionaires Charles and David Koch (see 1977-Present, 1979-1980, 1981-2010, 1984 and After, Late 2004, May 6, 2006, April 15, 2009, May 29, 2009, December 6, 2009, November 2009, July 3-4, 2010, August 28, 2010, August 30, 2010, September 24, 2010, January 5, 2011, October 4, 2011 and February 14, 2011). The ad campaign was launched by the American Energy Alliance (AEA), the political arm of the Institute for Energy Research. Both organizations are heavily funded by the Koch brothers and their donor network, though information about their finances is sketchy, as the groups do not have to disclose their donor rolls to the public. The two groups are run by Tom Pyle, a former lobbyist for Koch Industries. Pyle regularly attends what news Web site Politico calls “the mega-donor summits organized by the Koch brothers.” Koch-funded organizations intend to spend well over $200 million on behalf of conservative groups before the November elections. The AEA ad claims that the Obama administration is responsible for the recent surge in gasoline prices. Democratic National Committee (DNC) spokesman Brad Woodhouse says that the Koch brothers are “funding yet another shadowy outside group to defend the interests of Big Oil and protect their own tax breaks and profits with [Republican presumptive presidential nominee] Mitt Romney being the ultimate beneficiary.” The DNC and the Obama campaign have targeted the Koch brothers in previous statements, calling them some of the “secretive oil billionaires” funding the Romney campaign. AEA spokesman Benjamin Cole accuses the DNC and the Obama campaign of playing “shadowy” politics intended “to delay, deny, and deceive the American public about the president’s record on energy prices.” The AEA ad is not connected to the Romney campaign, Cole says, and adds that the ad campaign is not intended to benefit Romney, stating, “[W]e have been public and unashamed of criticizing Mitt Romney or any candidate for office, Republican or Democrat, that doesn’t support free market energy solutions.” Cole refuses to confirm that the Koch brothers are financing the ad campaign, instead saying: “People ask if Koch is behind this ad. There is only one person behind this ad and it is President Barack Obama.” The Koch brothers are becoming increasingly involved in the 2012 presidential campaign, sending representatives like Marc Short to network with former Bush advisor Karl Rove, who runs the super PAC American Crossroads and its sibling Crossroads GPS. [Politico, 3/29/2012]

Entity Tags: Karl C. Rove, Barack Obama, American Energy Alliance, Benjamin Cole, Brad Woodhouse, Obama administration, Charles Koch, David Koch, Thomas Pyle, Willard Mitt Romney, Marc Short

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties, 2012 Elections

Crossroads GPS, a Republican “nonprofit” organization working on behalf of presidential candidate Mitt Romney (R-MA) and other Republicans, plans on spending some $25 million on ads attacking President Obama. The ads will air in 10 states. $8 million of that money is allocated towards ads beginning to run in Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Michigan, North Carolina, New Hampshire, Nevada, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Virginia. The ad, according to Associated Press reports, attacks Obama on his economic policies. The Obama campaign, which operates under different campaign finance restrictions than the “independent” Crossroads GPS, has aired anti-Romney ads in recent days. [National Journal, 5/16/2012]

Entity Tags: Barack Obama, Willard Mitt Romney, American Crossroads GPS

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties, 2012 Elections

Black Rock Group logo.Black Rock Group logo. [Source: Black Rock Group]The 2010 Citizens United decision (see January 21, 2010) requires third-party groups working on behalf of candidates or parties not to coordinate their efforts with those candidates or parties—to remain “independent.” Many political observers have suspected that some of these groups are coordinating their efforts with the campaigns and/or with one another. Two of the groups under suspicion are American Crossroads, a super PAC, and Crossroads GPS. The two groups share the same president (Steven Law), the same spokesperson, the same staffers, and the same mailing address. Together, the two have raised $100 million for the 2012 election cycle and have already run millions of dollars of television ads (see April 13-20, 2012). In early June, Crossroads GPS spent $70,000 in advertisements attacking Democratic Senate candidate Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND), half of its $140,000 spent on that race. Shortly before that run of advertisements began, Heitkamp’s Republican challenger, Rick Berg (R-ND), paid the Black Rock Group, a Republican consulting firm in Virginia, thousands of dollars for “communications consulting.” Black Rock is also contracted to perform “advocacy and communications consulting” for American Crossroads. Black Rock’s founding partner, Carl Forti, is American Crossroads’s political director and formerly served as Crossroads GPS’s advocacy director. (Forti also helped start Restore Our Future, presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s super PAC—see June 23, 2011). Black Rock partner Michael Dubke is the founder of Crossroads Media, which buys ads for American Crossroads and Crossroads GPS. Crossroads Media and Black Rock share offices. It would be illegal for Berg’s campaign to consult or coordinate with Crossroads GPS on advertisement strategies. It would not be illegal for Berg’s campaign to consult with Black Rock, and then for Black Rock to consult with Crossroads GPS. “The real scandal is what’s legal,” says Paul Ryan of the Campaign Legal Center. The Citizens United ruling said that groups would disclose their donors and activists, and groups would not coordinate with one another. Yet both provisions are either being ignored or dodged. Fred Wertheimer of Democracy 21 says: “The statu[t]e and the Supreme Court have been very strong on preventing coordination. But the FEC regulations have basically gutted the laws and given us very weak laws to prevent coordination between outside spenders and candidates… despite the fact that the Court’s entire decision in Citizens United is based on the notion that the expenditures are going to be entirely independent from the campaign.” Bill Allison of the Sunlight Foundation says, “[T]he FEC [Federal Election Commission] has a very narrow definition of what coordination actually is.” As long as a campaign and an outside group do not directly communicate, their use of a “common vendor” such as Black Rock is perfectly legal as long as several specific criteria are avoided. “It kind of boggles the mind, but that’s what the FEC has defined and there’s nothing illegal about it.” Ryan says: “It makes the coordination rules pretty meaningless. We have all of this special interest money that we feared might be in the system, and none of the meaningful restraints on coordination, and very limited disclosure.” Allison gives a hypothetical example: “If they’re using the same people to buy ads, and the campaign is telling the ad buyer, ‘We want you to buy ads in such and such and such,’ and the ad buyer does that, the super PAC can then say, ‘Well, run ads where they’re not running ads, or double their ads,’ or whatever. These guys are professionals and they know how to do this. That’s still not coordination.” There is no evidence that Black Rock is ferrying communications between Crossroads GPS and the Berg campaign; according to Black Rock spokesperson Chelsea Wilson, “Black Rock has had firewalls in place since last year which allows the firm to legally engage in federal campaign and independent expenditure or issue advocacy campaigns.” Crossroads GPS is not legally bound to disclose much of its information to the FEC, and it is impossible to know precisely what Crossroads GPS is paying Black Rock to do for it. The Berg campaign denies any coordination, saying in a statement: “While we do work with Black Rock, there is no coordination between our campaign and outside groups and we have no knowledge of what their plans are. We cannot control what outside groups will do.” Allison says that even if Berg’s campaign is being truthful, there are many ways campaigns and outside groups can legally coordinate, using a common advisor such as Black Rock or even individual consultants. “There can be coordination at the level of consultants, even if they’re not at same company,” he says, noting that many consultants know one another socially or have worked together in previous campaigns. It is also possible, and legal, for super PACs to find out where campaigns they are supporting are buying ads by contacting the campaigns of the opposing candidates, which keep track of such information. Forti, the CEO of Black Rock, is in a unique position to facilitate what reporter Alex Seitz-Wald calls “GOP non-coordination coordination,” as he “sits in the middle of a powerful nexus of outside spending groups and GOP political firms all run out of the same office suite in Alexandria, Virginia.” Charles Spies, the treasure of Romney’s Restore Our Future, says of Forti, “I don’t know of anybody who’s got as important of a role with the major outside organizations, both in 2010 and in 2012.” [Salon, 6/19/2012]

Entity Tags: Charles R. Spies, Bill Allison, American Crossroads GPS, American Crossroads, Alex Seitz-Wald, Carl Forti, Rick Berg, Steven Law, Paul S. Ryan, Chelsea Wilson, Crossroads Media, Fred Wertheimer, Black Rock Group, Michael Dubke, Restore Our Future, Heidi Heitkamp

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties, 2012 Elections

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