Conservative groups confronting super PACs
By Rachel Weiner,
On Wednesday, the Club for Growth sent a missive to the GOP establishment with a simple message: Butt out.
U.S. flags and Gadsden flags fly in the breeze at a tea party rally outside at the Capitol on April, 06, 2011.
Club President Chris Chocola warned House leadership to stay out of an upcoming primary in Arizona between Reps. Ben Quayle and David Schweikert.
“Should it become apparent that you are choosing sides on
behalf of Rep. Quayle, the Club for Growth PAC will consider it necessary to intervene on behalf of Rep. Schweikert,” Chocola wrote.
Chocola’s warning shot comes in the aftermath of the Illinois primary on Tuesday. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (Va.) and the Young Guns Action Fund, a super PAC formed by his allies, intervened to help Rep. Adam Kinzinger in a member-vs.-member primary against Rep. Don Manzullo. Kinzinger won, leaving some hard feelings among Manzullo’s conservative supporters.
So does this spat matter?
With the preponderance of new super PACs, some argue that anti-establishment groups like the Club for Growth and FreedomWorks no longer have the power they once did to threaten incumbents.
Officials with the Young Guns Action Fund said the Illinois race was a unique case, given that Kinzinger is a member of the “Young Guns” program and personally close to Cantor.
But other groups are continuing to play in primaries on the side of the establishment. Many incumbents were caught off-guard in 2010; now they’re asking for — and getting — help.
The American Action Network is up on the air defending Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) and Rep. Fred Upton (R), both frequent targets of conservatives. The new Campaign for Primary Accountability helped defend Kinzinger.
“Club for Growth has always been more bark than bite, and now the superPacs are making them a miniature pomeranian in a dog park of rottweilers,” said one GOP strategist, calling the press release “desperate and overly-hyperbolic.”
The Club was dismissive.
“Outside of the party committees, no PAC raised more money for Republican candidates than the Club for Growth PAC, and we'd put our record up against other group’s any day,” said spokesman Barney Keller.
While the group has criticized Hatch and Upton, it hasn’t put money into those race.
FreedomWorks has. Unlike Club for Growth, the group prefers grassroots organizing to costly television ads. Spokesman Adam Brandon acknoweldged that the flood of super PAC money makes the group’s work harder.
“It certainly doesn't make it any easier, now that incumbents have a new vehicle to defend themselves,” said FreedomWorks spokesman Adam Brandon. He said the group hopes that on-the-ground organizing can still win out. “ In the long-term, that’s our strategy: that the community will prevail.”