Ready to Spend: New Political Groups Raised $30 Million in 2013

Political money groups showed no sign of post-presidential election fatigue this year.

By January 2013, two months after President Barack Obama was re-elected in a contest that cost more than $2 billion, new money groups were popping up on the Federal Election Commission website, and party strategists were activating fresh nonprofits.

Seven high-profile nonprofits and super-political action committees that formed in 2013 raked in at least $30 million and positioned themselves as groups to watch in the 2014 and 2016 elections.

Three are issue-oriented groups focused on matters such as immigration and gun control. Two are Republican operations that could become major resources in the next few elections. And two are super-PACs focused on electing particular candidates, whether they are ready or not.

Organizing for Action: $20.8 million

This political organization wasn’t so much born as rebooted.

Obama’s 2012 re-election team started OFA in January using his  list of supporters and social media apparatus, which includes about 38 million Facebook fans and 40 million Twitter followers. The nonprofit says its goal is to promote Obama’s policies. In practice, that has made for an awkward first year, especially when it comes to the Keystone XL pipeline. After dipping into gun control and immigration — issues that went nowhere in Congress this year — OFA is helping Obama promote the new health-care exchanges, which had a rocky debut in October.

“We’ve gone toe-to-toe with the biggest, wealthiest special interests, the most extreme lobbying groups, and some of the most unreasonable, destructive members of Congress in memory,” OFA Executive Director Jon Carson wrote in a year-end e-mail to supporters. “These are the battles OFA was built to fight.”

OFA’s debut year was a fundraising success. As a nonprofit, it is not legally required to disclose its donors and need not file tax paperwork on 2013 until late next year. It voluntarily posts limited information on its website quarterly. The latest fundraising figures show it raised $20.8 million by the end of September.

Americans for Responsible Solutions: $6.6 million

Former Arizona Rep. Gabrielle Giffords — who was shot at a public appearance in 2011 — and her husband, retired astronaut Mark Kelly, started a gun-control advocacy group as the year began. Called Americans for Responsible Solutions, it quickly became one of the best-funded counterparts to the National Rifle Association.

This super-PAC last filed FEC paperwork in July, covering its first six months of existence. By then it had raised about $6.6 million and was boasting of 500,000 supporters. Its advocacy hasn’t translated to congressional action, however. The Senate lacked the votes to advance a bipartisan proposal to expand background checks.

“On April 17, 2013, the U.S. Senate decided to do the unthinkable about gun violence: nothing at all,” Giffords and Kelly wrote in a Dec. 30 e-mail to supporters. “Together, we pledged that if we cannot make our communities safer from gun violence with the Congress we have now, we will use every means available to make sure we have a different Congress.'” $420,000+

Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and other technology billionaires formed a political nonprofit called to advocate for changes to U.S. immigration laws. The group is led by Joe Green, a onetime Harvard University roommate of Zuckerberg’s who went on to develop other web products.

The group’s tax status means it does not need to disclose its donors, and it won’t file IRS paperwork showing how much it raised until late next year. Lobbying documents show the group spent $420,000 through the end of October. It has also spent money on television and radio ads, some of which were so controversial that they cost the group supporters.

Although an overhaul of immigration laws, including providing a pathway to citizenship for some of the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants already in the U.S., passed the Democratic-led Senate in June, the House has refused to take it up. In a Dec. 30 e-mail to supporters, Green said FWD is still finding its footing.

“We’re like a startup, but in the political space there are not as many new organizations and ideas,” he wrote. “So as a political startup we had the difficult task of trying to take off — and put on the wings — at the same time.”

Conservative Victory Project: $5,660 in transfers

Republican strategist Karl Rove steered some $300 million in donor money during the 2012 elections without many wins to show for it. That didn’t give him pause. By February, he had formed a new group that he and co-founder Steven Law said would help “the most electable conservative candidates win office.” The two also said it does no good for Republicans to pick primary winners who are unable to compete in general elections.

Such comments enraged Tea Party supporters who took it as a swipe at some of their favored candidates. After announcing the group in an article on the front page of the New York Times, little has come of it, at least in terms of fundraising. By the end of June, the most recent reporting available, it has made few new headlines. By the end of June, the group had raised $5,660, all of it thanks to another Rove operation, American Crossroads.

Still, with the Republican Party friction among Tea Party supporters and business-backed candidates, the Conservative Victory Project could become a force in 2014.

America Rising: $22,048+

This Republican opposition research and rapid-response vehicle aims to be a counterpart to the Democratic American Bridge. America Rising’s super-PAC portion, which handles its digital media, reported raising $22,048 by the end of June in small donations and transfers from an LLC of the same name. America Rising LLC, funded by clients who purchase its data, houses its research and digital tracking efforts and has a staff of 30. America Rising’s year-end e-mail to supporters touted  “203 press mentions, 211,936 YouTube views and 368 stories planted.”

Co-founders include Matt Rhoades, campaign manager for 2012 Republican presidential contender Mitt Romney, and Joe Pounder, former research director for the Republican National Committee. America Rising’s major project so far is an effort to “Stop Hillary,” which Rhoades announced in June.  “It’s no secret that Hillary Clinton is already gearing up for her 2016 presidential campaign,” he wrote in an e-mail. “That’s why I started America Rising– to prevent Americans from ever having to see another Clinton in the White House.”

Ready for Hillary: $1.3 million

Clinton has not said whether she will seek the Democratic nomination for president in 2016 (reminder: still more than two years away), yet one super-PAC is committed to stopping her and another is devoted to helping her. Ready for Hillary has already raised more than $1 million and says it has signed up 1 million-plus supporters.

Founded by Adam Parkhomenko, a 2008 Clinton presidential campaign aide, the super-PAC has picked up big-name supporters, including Missouri Sen. Claire McCaskill, billionaire investor George Soros and Harold Ickes, a longtime Clinton adviser. Although super-PACs can accept unlimited amounts of money, Ready for Hillary caps donors at $25,000 apiece.

Kentuckians for Strong Leadership: $1.2 million

Perhaps the 2013 group that will show the earliest and greatest influence next year is Kentuckians for Strong Leadership. This super-PAC is focused on helping re-elect Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who faces a challenging Republican primary in May and, if he succeeds, a potentially tough general election in November.

The super-PAC filed paperwork with the FEC more than a year before the primary and began spending money in July. Three months into its existence, the super-PAC had already netted $1.2 million.  Just 2 percent came from Kentucky donors, underscoring the national interest in the Kentucky Senate race.

— With assistance from Bloomberg’s Greg Giroux.

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