10 Super PACs You’ve Never Heard of That Will Make News in 2014

From Mitch McConnell’s lead ally in 2014 to Trey Radel’s top critic, under-the-radar groups are poised to make a major impact.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) arrives at a press conference, September 26, 2013 in Washington, DC.
National Journal
Scott Bland
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Scott Bland
Jan. 17, 2014, midnight

In the wake of the Su­preme Court’s Cit­izen United rul­ing loosen­ing cam­paign fin­ance reg­u­la­tions, sev­er­al brand-name su­per PACs emerged with big-name back­ers — Karl Rove’s Amer­ic­an Cross­roads and Pres­id­ent Obama-sup­port­ing Pri­or­it­ies USA, just to name a few.

But there will be many smal­ler groups mak­ing a ma­jor im­pact on the con­gres­sion­al land­scape in 2014. As the su­per PAC era pro­gresses, more and more groups that can take and spend un­lim­ited money have popped up. Some high-powered strategists are go­ing loc­al, es­tab­lish­ing big-money su­per PACs that fo­cus on just one Sen­ate or House race. And though their total spend­ing doesn’t come close to the lar­ger en­tit­ies, these in­di­vidu­al or­gan­iz­a­tions can pump mil­lions of dol­lars in­to an in­di­vidu­al con­gres­sion­al race — as much as the biggest play­ers ever do.

The groups run the gamut, from help­ing un­der­mine Sen­ate Minor­ity Lead­er Mitch Mc­Con­nell’s Demo­crat­ic op­pon­ent, to pro­mot­ing an ef­fort to ex­ploit Flor­ida Rep. Trey Radel’s polit­ic­al prob­lems.

There are more to come that we don’t even know about yet. These groups and oth­ers will file fun­drais­ing re­ports with the Fed­er­al Elec­tion Com­mis­sion by Janu­ary 31, mean­ing we can bet­ter gauge their roles with a sense of how well-fun­ded they are. With un­lim­ited dona­tions per­mit­ted, any of these groups could go from flat broke to ma­jor play­er with one pen­stroke across a check.

Here are 10 less­er-known su­per PACs that may make big news in 2014:

1) Ken­tucki­ans for Strong Lead­er­ship - Ken­tucky Sen­ate

If you’re a polit­ic­al junkie, the su­per PAC sup­port­ing GOP Sen­ate Minor­ity Lead­er Mitch Mc­Con­nell has been mak­ing news for the past year. The group, which is staffed by long­time Mc­Con­nell sup­port­ers and Cross­roads op­er­at­ives, has already spent $1.1 mil­lion on TV and ra­dio ads savaging Demo­crat­ic can­did­ate Al­is­on Lun­der­gan Grimes, and there will be more where that came from.

A source work­ing with the or­gan­iz­a­tion said that they ex­pect to be the “prin­cip­al” GOP out­side group in­volved in what could be the most ex­pens­ive Sen­ate race in the coun­try in 2014. Like more and more su­per PACs these days, KSL also has an af­fil­i­ated non-profit or­gan­iz­a­tion (the Ken­tucky Op­por­tun­ity Co­ali­tion) which doesn’t have to re­port its donors. The New York Times re­por­ted that Cross­roads pres­id­ent Steven Law has lob­bied against the form­a­tion of in­di­vidu­al­ized su­per PACs in oth­er Re­pub­lic­an Sen­ate races but that Cross­roads has also worked to help set up groups along the lines of KSL in areas where donors and TV view­ers have grown wary of the big­ger group.

2) Put Alaska First - Alaska Sen­ate

This su­per PAC has an au­da­cious spend­ing goal for a state with an im­port­ant Sen­ate con­test — and where money goes a long way. PAC ad­viser Jim Lott­s­feldt, a donor to Demo­crat­ic Sen. Mark Be­gich, said the group wants to raise and spend $3 to $5 mil­lion, equal­ing by it­self the out­side spend­ing in Be­gich’s 2008 race and tilt­ing the con­ver­sa­tion away from na­tion­al polit­ics and to­ward Alaska is­sues. Wheth­er the group can fol­low through is an open ques­tion; some loc­al su­per PACs soar while oth­ers fizzle. But Put Alaska First has already spent over $168,000 on TV ads push­ing back against a na­tion­al out­side group that was ad­vert­ising against Be­gich.

3) Free­dom’s Fron­ti­er - Alaska Sen­ate

4) Alaska’s En­ergy/Amer­ica’s Val­ues - Alaska Sen­ate

Be­gich isn’t the only can­did­ate with big-money loc­al back­ing up north: Lead­ing Re­pub­lic­an can­did­ates Mead Tread­well, the lieu­ten­ant gov­ernor, and Dan Sul­li­van, the former state nat­ur­al re­sources com­mis­sion­er, both have sup­port­ive su­per PACs back­ing them up. Again, it will take some time to judge their ef­fects: Pro-Tread­well Free­dom’s Fron­ti­er hasn’t had any activ­ity yet, while the pro-Sul­li­van Alaska’s En­ergy group has spent a little less than $16,000 on ra­dio ads hit­ting Be­gich. Their fun­drais­ing bears watch­ing, as does the pos­sib­il­ity that either group takes on an at­tack dog role in the con­tested GOP primary.

5) Grow NC Strong - North Car­o­lina Sen­ate

This su­per PAC ac­tu­ally beat its favored can­did­ate in­to the race. State House Speak­er Thom Tillis, a Re­pub­lic­an, an­nounced in June that he would run against Demo­crat­ic Sen. Kay Hagan. A little earli­er, in May, sup­port­ers set up Grow NC Strong to help Tillis’s can­did­acy. The group raised over $100,000 in its first five weeks. Anti-Hagan out­side money has been plen­ti­ful so far in 2013 and 2014, but the GOP primary for the right to face the Demo­crat in Novem­ber is crowded. Most strategists view Tillis as the most elect­able Re­pub­lic­an in the race, so out­side money could play an im­port­ant role in de­term­in­ing who wins the seat.

6) Wolf­heel PAC - North Car­o­lina Sen­ate

Speak­ing of that out­side money flow­ing in­to North Car­o­lina: Roll Call found that out­side groups already poured over $9 mil­lion, tilted over 2-to-1 against Hagan, in­to North Car­o­lina in 2013, and more came quickly at the start of this year. That led to the re­cent form­a­tion of Wolf­heel PAC, a pro-Hagan ef­fort. Hagan has already been get­ting help from Sen­ate Demo­crats’ of­fi­cial-un­of­fi­cial su­per PAC, Sen­ate Ma­jor­ity PAC, and in­di­vidu­al­ized ef­forts on be­half of Demo­crat­ic sen­at­ors have been both rarer and less fin­an­cially suc­cess­ful than per­son­al Re­pub­lic­an su­per PACs. We’ll have to wait and see if Wolf­heel has a big­ger im­pact.

7) Name un­known - Louisi­ana Sen­ate

Re­pub­lic­an Rep. Bill Cas­sidy’s former chief of staff, strategist Josh Robin­son, has told sev­er­al me­dia out­lets that he plans to form a su­per PAC back­ing his former boss. This is an­oth­er race where the PAC could have mul­tiple tar­gets: Cas­sidy is run­ning to un­seat Demo­crat­ic Sen. Mary Landrieu, but he’s also com­pet­ing against re­tired Air Force Col­on­el Rob Maness, a fel­low Re­pub­lic­an, to face Landrieu one-on-one in a post-Novem­ber run­off. Maness is backed by sev­er­al tea party-ori­ented out­side groups, and Cas­sidy’s su­per PAC could help.

If Cas­sidy wins, that would make him the second Louisi­ana sen­at­or with a per­son­al su­per PAC. GOP Sen. Dav­id Vit­ter already has one rais­ing money for his next move, wheth­er it’s a run for gov­ernor in 2015 or a reelec­tion bid in 2016.

8) Pure PAC - Michigan Sen­ate

Busi­ness­man Paul Mitchell star­ted the PAC, which has spent over $100,000 ad­vert­ising against Demo­crat­ic Rep. Gary Peters, in the hope that it would “evoke a con­ver­sa­tion” and help spark a strong chal­lenge to Peters for the state’s open Sen­ate seat. It was the first TV ad of the race; big­ger groups like Amer­ic­ans for Prosper­ity have got­ten in­volved re­cently, and it’s not clear how big Pure PAC’s role will be go­ing for­ward.

9) Val­ues Are Vi­tal - Flor­ida’s 19th Con­gres­sion­al Dis­trict

Re­pub­lic­an Rep. Trey Radel already faced a polit­ic­al prob­lem after be­ing ar­res­ted for co­caine pos­ses­sion last year, but this PAC as­sures he’ll face a well-fun­ded primary chal­lenge ex­ploit­ing that prob­lem.

Former state Rep. Paige Kree­gel, who lost the GOP nom­in­a­tion to Radel in 2012, is run­ning again next year, and Val­ues Are Vi­tal already has over $1 mil­lion in hand to sup­port his bid. (All of the money comes from two of Kree­gel’s donors from the last elec­tion.) Money is a ma­jor bar­ri­er of entry to primary chal­lengers, but more and more sup­port­ers are re­cog­niz­ing how far a few hun­dred thou­sand dol­lars — a pit­tance in the Sen­ate world — can go in a House primary. Su­per PACs played key roles in House primar­ies in North Car­o­lina, Ken­tucky, Cali­for­nia, Wash­ing­ton, and Con­necti­c­ut in 2012, and that trend is likely to spread.

House su­per PACs don’t need as much money to make an im­pact as Sen­ate-fo­cused su­per PACs do, so we can count on see­ing more of these form as elec­tions draw closer.

10) Em­power Cent­ral Val­ley - Cali­for­nia’s 10th and 21st Con­gres­sion­al Dis­tricts

Former Re­pub­lic­an Rep. Richard Pombo may have lost his seat in Con­gress in 2006, but he’s still play­ing a role in con­gres­sion­al polit­ics via Em­power Cent­ral Val­ley. The su­per PAC he formed has pledged to sup­port Golden State GOP Reps. Jeff Den­ham and Dav­id Valadao in 2014, with a start­ing goal of spend­ing $1.2 mil­lion on those races. Den­ham and Valadao rep­res­ent ma­jor­ity His­pan­ic dis­tricts that Pres­id­ent Obama car­ried in the past two elec­tions, mak­ing them ma­jor Demo­crat­ic tar­gets — and mak­ing it more likely that ECV will have a crit­ic­al role to play.

A fi­nal note: It is also worth keep­ing an eye out for an­oth­er fast-grow­ing cat­egory of polit­ic­al groups. Loc­ally fo­cused polit­ic­al non-profits are also on the rise. Large non-profits like Re­pub­lic­an-aligned Amer­ic­ans for Prosper­ity can ba­sic­ally do what su­per PACs do — AFP has spent more on TV ads against Demo­crats so far this elec­tion cycle than all oth­er GOP groups com­bined — but they don’t have to re­port their donors, and they don’t al­ways have to re­port their polit­ic­al spend­ing. Cit­izens for a Strong New Hamp­shire, a Gran­ite State-based non-profit, has already spent six fig­ures on TV ads against Demo­crat­ic Sen. Jeanne Shaheen.

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