“Howard and I have been friends for 30 years,” said Marc Nathanson, a cable TV magnate and investor who founded the super PAC and has given it $100,000. “It’s a friendship beyond what I call political friendships — it’s a personal relationship. When it was clear he needed help, I figured out a way to do that.”
Amid the hundreds of super PACs created to help favored candidates and causes, Nathanson’s group is part of an even more specific class — highly customized, highly personalized political action committees, often created overnight when a relative or friend writes a check.
The phenomenon began in the Republican presidential primary, when a handful of millionaires lined up to support their candidates through specially targeted super PACs, including one funded by Jon Huntsman Jr.’s billionaire father.
The same kinds of very personalized groups have sprouted in House and Senate races across the country, inundating voters with ads and mailings and testing the limits of federal rules forbidding coordination between fundraising committees and candidates.
The trend has alarmed watchdogs who say the groups make a mockery of federal contribution limits, which are supposed to guard against corruption by capping the amount of money supporters can give to a campaign. But with a personalized super PAC, supporters can write as big a check as they wish as long as they do not technically coordinate with the campaign.
“They are essentially undermining the whole rationale behind contribution limits,” said Craig Holman, government affairs lobbyist for the Public Citizen watchdog group. “These are the exact same people who work with the campaign or are close to the campaign setting up a second, unlimited funding source.”
The pattern is evident in California, which held a revamped primary contest Tuesday allowing the first two candidates of any party to proceed to the general election. At least a dozen primary races in the state featured super PACs founded or funded by close allies and associates of the candidates, according to Federal Election Commission filings.
In the High Desert east of Los Angeles, for example, Republican Paul Cook was aided by more than $200,000 worth of ads and mailers from two super PACs in the newly created 8th Congressional District. The groups were formed by the same lawyer within a month of the primary and have not yet had to disclose their donors.
The Golden State is hardly alone in its fondness for custom-crafted super PACs.
In Texas, Dallas billionaire Harold Simmons has dumped $1 million into two super PACs focused solely on the GOP Senate primary there. One group is running ads supporting Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst (R) while the other is attacking his tea party opponent, Ted Cruz.