Anti-Trump Spending Surges; Hill Dominates Money Race

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By Kenneth P. Doyle

June 7 — Super political action committees and other outside groups reported about $44 million in campaign spending for television ads and other messages over the last month, with money for congressional races continuing to outpace presidential campaign spending by about 3 to 1.

Outside spending on congressional races since May 3 totaled more than $33 million, with much of the money going to a half-dozen key Senate races, according to reports of independent expenditures filed with the Federal Election Commission and analyzed by Bloomberg BNA.

As the presidential primary season nears its end with major primaries in California and other states June 7, two Democratic-leaning super PACs—Priorities USA Action and NextGen Climate Action—are already geared up for the general election. The super PACs spent a total of almost $7 million in recent weeks on television and online ads opposing the presumptive Republican nominee, Donald Trump.

NextGen, which focuses on environmental issues, gets almost all of its money—$24 million so far in the current election cycle—from financier Thomas Steyer, founder of Fahr LLC. Priorities USA, which supports Democratic presidential frontrunner Hillary Clinton, collected more than $66 million from a variety of wealthy Democratic donors, led by financiers James Simons of Euclidean Capital and George Soros of Soros Fund Management.

Almost No Pro-Trump Spending

FEC rules call for reporting within 24 or 48 hours of large independent expenditures—defined as spending on television ads and other widely disseminated messages advocating for votes for or against candidates. These reports of major spending by super PACs and other outside groups not formally linked to a candidate provide a gauge of the intensity and targets of outside campaign spending as the campaign progresses.

The FEC reports show almost no significant outside spending to support Trump. Though several super PACs reportedly are being lined up to support the New York businessman, there was no evidence in FEC reports yet of major pro-Trump ad spending.

One pro-Trump super PAC, Great America PAC, claims to have spent more than $800,000 since its inception on messages backing Trump, but the Trump campaign has formally disavowed its efforts and the super PAC's FEC reports have been questioned (See previous story, 04/25/16).

Another, newer Pro-Trump super PAC, Rebuilding America Now, says it has plans to raise millions but has filed only one FEC report, so far, listing $40,000 in TV ad spending. The super PAC registered with the FEC this month and has not yet reported any of its donors. One of its supporters, investor and Trump friend Tom Barrack, said in a statement that the super PAC “has $32 million in commitments.”

Key Senate Races Dominate Spending

Most of the outside campaign spending over the past month—$25.7 million—has been targeted on Senate races, including roughly a half-dozen key contests that will determine control of the Senate after the November elections. The states include Arizona, Illinois, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, Ohio and Wisconsin, where incumbent Republican senators are set to face serious Democratic challengers in the Nov. 8 general election.

This level of spending so long before Election Day suggests voters in these states will see a steady stream of campaign ads focused on Senate candidates on television, in their mailboxes and on their computer screens for the next five months before the general election.

Just three groups—the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Freedom Partners Action Fund and Senate Majority PAC—have dominated spending in these Senate races. The groups pumped a total of almost $30 million into congressional races this year, according to FEC reports.

The Chamber is the nation's largest business lobby, which as a trade association does not disclose its donors. It leads all other outside spenders in congressional races, followed by Freedom Partners Action Fund, a super PAC funded by Koch Industries Inc. executives Charles and David Koch and others linked to the so-called Koch network of wealthy conservative donors.

Spending to support Democrats in these races is dominated by the Senate Majority PAC, a super fund linked to Senate Democrats, which is funded by wealthy Democratic donors including Simons of Euclidean Capital, along with Fred Eychaner, George Marcus and Henry Laufer.

Spending in House Primary Races

The FEC reports also showed targeted spending of $7.6 million over the last month in key House primary races.

This includes more than $1.6 million spent in the June 8 primary race in North Carolina that pits two House Republican incumbents against each other—Reps. Renee Ellmers and George Holding. Most of the money—more than $1.2 million—has been spent to aid Holding and defeat Ellmers.

The spending against Ellmers, an ally of the House Republican leadership, has come mainly from the conservative super PAC Club for Growth Action and the Koch-network nonprofit Americans for Prosperity (AFP). The groups have criticized her for votes supporting budget bills and the Export-Import Bank, which Ellmers has called pragmatic and some conservatives have condemned.

AFP, a so-called Section 501(c)(4) nonprofit group that does not disclose its donors, has highlighted its efforts to unseat Ellmers. The group has relied in the campaign on workers canvassing the district and making phone calls, not on television ads.

AFP ‘Grassroots Campaign.'

A statement from the nonprofit group said the “grassroots campaign” was being carried out by “volunteers,” but FEC independent expenditure reports showed AFP spent almost $300,000 on these activities.

AFP said in a statement that it had knocked on more than 15,000 doors and made more than 178,000 phone calls since the effort began.

“Dozens of motivated volunteers are contributing countless hours to defeat Renee Ellmers because they want a representative in Congress who not only talks the talk, but walks the walk,” Donald Bryson, the North Carolina state director of Americans for Prosperity said in a statement.

In a phone interview with Bloomberg BNA, however, a spokesman for AFP, Joseph Kyzer, acknowledged that only some of the AFP workers involved in the North Carolina race were volunteers, while others were being paid to knock on doors and make phone calls opposing Ellmers. He said he did not know the proportion of paid workers to volunteers.

Kyzer noted that this was the first primary race in which AFP worked to defeat a Republican incumbent. The group previously only opposed Democrats and supported Republicans in general elections.

Kyzer said AFP was especially upset with Ellmers because she relied on the group's support when first elected to Congress in the Tea Party wave election of 2010. Kyzer said AFP had no current plans to get involved in other primaries.

To contact the reporter on this story: Kenneth P. Doyle in Washington at kdoyle@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Heather Rothman at hrothman@bna.com