New PACs sprout in final days of 2010 campaign

The 2010 election brought scores of tea party-backed candidates into Washington.
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, October 29, 2010; 8:16 PM

With just seven days to go in the 2010 campaign, the Federal Election Commission received notice Tuesday of yet another new political committee.

The group is called the Patriot's Fund. Its address is a post-office box in Grand Rapids, Mich. And its treasurer, a high-ranking official in the Michigan Republican Party, isn't talking about its plans.

The Patriot's Fund was "formed to support and oppose federal candidates in Michigan," said Scott W. Greenlee, coalitions vice chairman for the state GOP. He declined to elaborate.

From the U.S. Israel Friendship PAC to the Ohio State Tea Party, new political groups have sprouted like mushrooms in the final weeks of the 2010 campaign, dumping tens of millions of dollars into House and Senate races and, in many cases, avoiding the need to tell voters who is funding their activities.

The frenzy is possible largely because of federal rulings making it easier and more advantageous to set up "super PACs" such as the Patriot's Fund, with no limits on fundraising or spending. More than three dozen super PACs and other political groups began spending money for the first time within the past ten days, according to a Washington Post analysis of FEC records.

The surge underscores the outsize role played this year by independent interest groups, which are expected to spend as much $500 million on the midterms. Some political committees are so new they don't have to reveal details about their backing until after the election; others operating as nonprofits will never have to disclose their donors.

"The main benefit to forming one of these groups at the last minute is to avoid disclosure of where the money is coming from," said Paul S. Ryan, associate counsel at the Campaign Legal Center. "It also makes it harder for the other side to respond. That's why so much of the money pours into the system late in the game."

Some of the newest groups are quirky and faintly quixotic. The Frack Action USA PAC, a small New York organization opposed to "hydraulic fracturing" for natural gas, has enlisted actor Mark Ruffalo to defend Rep. Maurice D. Hinchey (D-N.Y.), who finds himself under siege by the far larger American Crossroads conservative group.

Others are major players: Within a month, Chicago Cubs owner Joe Ricketts has launched his own super PAC and spent $1.1 million in the past week, including $870,000 against Sen. Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.).

Ads by Ricketts's Ending Spending Fund label Reid a "hooligan" for allegedly failing to curb congressional earmarks. The group has yet to report any contributions to the FEC, although it acknowledges that Ricketts is the sole donor so far.

"We're trying to inject the issue of earmarks into a high-profile race," said Brian Baker, president of the Ending Spending Fund and its sister organization, Taxpayers Against Earmarks. "You have to look at where you're going to make a difference. We believe we're going to make a difference in the Nevada Senate race."

The loosened regulatory climate has proven especially popular for wealthy funders such as Ricketts. Concerned Taxpayers of America consists of two taxpayers concerned about two particular House races in Maryland and Oregon. Bob J. Perry, a Texas homebuilder who helped fund the Swift Boat campaign ads in 2004, has donated more than $14 million this cycle, including at least $7 million to American Crossroads.

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