This ad has been credited for helping to bring Joe Sestak back into the Senate race in Pennsylvania. The latest poll, from Reuters-Ipsos, shows a dead heat, after Sestak trailed for months. Just like in his primary victory over Arlen Specter, Sestak stormed back in the final stages and now could pull off the upset, which may come down to the ring communities in the Philadelphia suburbs. But while one ad could bring Sestak back from the brink, it’s the overwhelming number of ads attacking him that has defined the race – a model devised and carried out by his opponent years earlier.
Sestak’s opponent, Pat Toomey, has been described by Tea Party leader Dick Armey as the earliest tea party candidate. The tea party’s “moment of conception was six years ago when the Republican President George W. Bush endorsed Arlen Specter over Pat Toomey,” Armey said recently. So it’s not surprising that Toomey has been the recipient of lots of support from outside groups affiliated to that movement. FreedomWorks, the Club for Growth and the Tea Party Express have all lent support to his campaign, among others. Conservative campaign committees and outside groups are expected to outspend liberal groups by 2-to-1 in the race, with outlays just in the final week by the National Republican Senatorial Committee ($2.7 million); Americans for Tax Reform ($1.1 million); the Club for Growth ($1.4 million); and the Republican Jewish Coalition ($1 million). Crossroads GPS and other outside groups have spent in the race.
It’s no surprise that the Club for Growth has heavy involvement in Pennsylvania. Toomey used to run it. And the Club for Growth is set up as a “SuperPAC, able to accept unlimited individual and corporate donations. The SuperPAC innovation came directly out of the Citizens United decision, allowing unlimited spending on independent campaign advocacy. The Club for Growth specifically asked for unlimited donations to help their former leader, Toomey.
The Club for Growth also does not disclose its donors through its 501(c)(4). It’s SuperPAC can withhold donor information until after the elections. So the source of the funding for these attack ads against Sestak is currently unknown. Needless to say, the Club for Growth opposed the DISCLOSE Act, which would have forced disclosure on campaign spending from outside groups.
But Toomey pioneered this practice while running the Club for Growth. On December 19, 2007, the Wall Street Journal reported that Toomey wrote a fundraising letter to Club for Growth members, saying that the group has the “ability to run advertisements that directly call for the election or defeat of candidates…your donations to the Club will not be disclosed to the public.”
The Club for Growth, while under Toomey’s leadership had to pay $350,000 to the Federal Election Commission, a rare fine doled out by the FEC, because they failed to register as a political committee and disclose their donors and expenditures. From the complaint, which covered a variety of violations:
The Federal Election Campaign Act (the Act) states that organizations that make expenditures or receive contributions in excess of $1,000 must register with the Commission and file periodic financial disclosure reports. The Act also prohibits these organizations from receiving contributions from corporations or labor organizations and limits contributions from individuals to no more than $5,000 per year [...]
The Club’s spending focused on candidate research, polling, and advertisements and other public communications referencing clearly identified federal candidates. In 2004, the Club spent approximately 88% of its disbursements on advertising supporting or criticizing clearly identified federal candidates.
From 2000 through the end of 2006, the Club accepted approximately $10.78 million in contributions from individuals that exceeded the $5,000 contribution limit. Between 2000 and 2004 the Club also accepted more than $93,000 in corporate contributions.
Essentially, Toomey led a shadowy political committee that pre-figured all the campaign spending from secretive outside groups that we see today. Toomey agreed with the Citizens United decision and does not support the DISCLOSE Act. That’s because he not only benefited from all this secret campaign spending, he helped to invent it.