Karl Rove’s Crossroads Empire Adds a New Senate Defense Arm

A new secret-money nonprofit branch will focus on defending the GOP majority.

Karl Rove, former deputy chief of staff and senior advisor to President George W. Bush.
National Journal
Shane Goldmacher
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Shane Goldmacher
May 22, 2015, 6:55 a.m.

As the Karl Roved-backed con­stel­la­tion of Cross­roads or­gan­iz­a­tions battles for its place in the in­creas­ingly crowded world of big GOP money, the in­flu­en­tial net­work has spun off a new non­profit group to bet­ter cater to donors fo­cused on de­fend­ing the new Sen­ate Re­pub­lic­an ma­jor­ity.

In 2012, the Cross­roads net­work had only two groups: Amer­ic­an Cross­roads, which served as the su­per PAC, and Cross­roads GPS, which served as its secret-money non­profit arm. To­geth­er, to­geth­er they served as a clear­ing­house for what was touted as $300 mil­lion in spend­ing to boost GOP House, Sen­ate, and pres­id­en­tial cam­paigns.

Now, ahead of 2016, the Rove-sup­por­ted net­work will be com­posed of at least four groups. The ori­gin­al Cross­roads groups will con­tin­ue to ex­ist, but they will be mostly fo­cused on the pres­id­en­tial cam­paign—in par­tic­u­lar, on bludgeon­ing likely Demo­crat­ic nom­in­ee Hil­lary Clin­ton.

And two new­er arms will be de­voted to the Sen­ate, with a su­per PAC an­nounced earli­er this year, the Sen­ate Lead­er­ship Fund, aim­ing to de­fend Mitch Mc­Con­nell’s new status as Sen­ate ma­jor­ity lead­er, and the new­est ad­di­tion, One Na­tion, a 501(c)4 non­profit that is fo­cused on the Sen­ate and already air­ing ads in battle­ground states.

“The im­petus was the change in lead­er­ship in the Sen­ate and high­light­ing spe­cific­ally how that lead­er­ship is build­ing con­sensus to get things done,” said Ian Pri­or, a spokes­man for One Na­tion (and all four Cross­roads-tied groups).

In­deed, all four or­gan­iz­a­tions are ad­vised and run by the same team of Re­pub­lic­an op­er­at­ives, led by former Mc­Con­nell chief of staff Steven Law, who is the pres­id­ent of the new One Na­tion.

The new non­profit, which does not dis­close its donors, has already launched a $2 mil­lion ad cam­paign in the last two weeks tout­ing the work of in­cum­bent Re­pub­lic­an sen­at­ors up for reelec­tion in 2016 in com­pet­it­ive states: Kelly Ayotte of New Hamp­shire, Mark Kirk of Illinois, Richard Burr of North Car­o­lina, Rob Port­man of Ohio, and Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania.

The spin-off of a new, Sen­ate-fo­cused Cross­roads non­profit is a test­a­ment to the fierce fight for donor dol­lars go­ing on among out­side GOP groups. With the polit­ic­al net­work of Charles and Dav­id Koch vow­ing to spend $900 mil­lion ahead of 2016, and every ma­jor Re­pub­lic­an can­did­ate for pres­id­ent backed by a sup­port­ive su­per PAC, there are more groups cash­ing—and com­pet­ing for—out­sized checks. Jeb Bush’s su­per PAC alone is ex­pec­ted to gath­er $100 mil­lion in the first half of 2015.

“We’re a first base­man who ef­fect­ively plays our po­s­i­tion,” Law told The New York Times in a story in Fri­day’s pa­per. “We’re a crit­ic­al play­er, but part of the team.”

Though Rove and Co. pi­on­eered the use of non­profits and su­per PACs in the wake of the Cit­izens United de­cision that paved the way for un­lim­ited out­side spend­ing, the new Cross­roads struc­ture for the Sen­ate is ac­tu­ally modeled after what Sen. Harry Re­id and the Demo­crats did in 2014.

Groups back­ing Re­id’s Demo­crat­ic ma­jor­ity had a sep­ar­ate su­per PAC (the Sen­ate Ma­jor­ity PAC) and non­profit (Pat­ri­ot Ma­jor­ity USA) that worked in tan­dem to de­fend vul­ner­able Demo­crats.

Now, Re­pub­lic­ans and Mc­Con­nell will, too.

When Cross­roads cre­ated its Sen­ate-fo­cused su­per PAC, in Janu­ary, the Times re­por­ted that Mc­Con­nell, at a private lunch of GOP sen­at­ors, “de­scribed it as a re­sponse to con­cerns donors ex­pressed after the 2014 elec­tion.” The cre­ation of the new non­profit is pre­sum­ably an out­growth of that, in­clud­ing ap­peal­ing to some donors who wish to back the GOP ma­jor­ity but in the cloak of an­onym­ity.

The group’s ads—sup­port­ing GOP sen­at­ors in blue and purple states—tout re­cent bi­par­tis­an ac­tion on Cap­it­ol Hill, in­clud­ing on the so-called “doc fix” that tackled Medi­care-re­im­burse­ment rates and the cur­rent pending trade-pro­mo­tion au­thor­ity.

“Words like po­lar­ized, par­tis­an, and petty are in the past,” said one ra­dio ad in New Hamp­shire tout­ing Ayotte’s work in Wash­ing­ton.

Pri­or de­clined to say the size of the new non­profit’s budget in the com­ing 18 months.

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