Interest groups prepare super-PAC barrage

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Interest groups are readying their super-PACs for another spending barrage in the 2014 elections.

Green groups, unions and business lobbies are among the major political players that are stockpiling cash in hopes of impacting the battle for control of the House and Senate.

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“It’s rules of the game. We have to take advantage,” said Scott Reiter, a vice president at the National Association of Realtors. “It’s just trying to keep up with the Joneses.”

The Realtors super-PAC made its presence known in the 2012 cycle by spending almost $3.2 million supporting incumbents such as Reps. Gary Miller (R-Calif.), Gary Peters (D-Mich.) and Fred Upton (R-Mich.).

While the super-PAC only has about $13,000 on hand for 2014, Reiter said a big cash infusion could be coming.

“I suspect we will spend more. I don’t know for sure yet — we don’t spend for spending’s sake — but we are planning to have more if we need to,” Reiter said. “We like to send a signal that we stick with our friends. We want to be participants in the political process, and that takes dollars.”

Super-PACs, which can raise and spend unlimited amounts independent of campaigns, doled out more then $600 million during the 2012 cycle, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

The bulk of the super-PAC money went toward the presidential campaign. Smaller political action committees spent millions as well — and that money can have an outsized affect on congressional races.

The American Dental Association (ADA), for example, spent about $322,000 via its super-PAC during the last election cycle. Those funds supported four candidates, including Reps. Paul Gosar (R-Ariz.) and Mike Simpson (R-Idaho), according to Michael Graham, senior vice president of government and public affairs for the dental group.

Gosar and Simpson’s experience behind the dentist’s drill helped them earn them the group’s endorsement.

“The ADA’s focus is on supporting members of Congress who support our oral healthcare issues. Dentists more than anybody else understand who we are,” Graham said.

The ADA’s super-PAC only has about $5,400 in cash on hand, but Graham said the trade group’s independent expenditure (IE) committee — which controls the super-PAC — is likely to rev up next year.

“The IE Committee is, I’m sure, looking at what’s going on in the states, watching Gosar’s race, watching Mike Simpson’s race and seeing if other dentists are going to run,” Graham said.

Other groups are making plans to use their super-PACs in 2014.

Jeff Gohringer, the League of Conservation Voters’s (LCV) national press secretary, said the green group has been involved in elections for decades but will be “playing a bigger role than ever before in races across the country.”

The group’s super-PAC, the LCV Victory Fund, spent more than $2.6 million during the 2012 cycle on independent expenditures.

“We showed that you can be outspent as long as you spend your money effectively,” Gohringer said. “The more we can show political leaders that there’s an effective political force that will have their back when they stand up for environmental priorities, that’s good for the entire environmental community.”

Other groups typically aligned with Democrats have also become major players in the super-PAC game.

“Women Vote! played an instrumental role in some big wins in 2012. ... We’re looking forward to doing the same thing in 2014,” said Jess McIntosh, a spokeswoman for EMILY’s List, the organization behind the Women Vote! super-PAC.

Women Vote! spent more than $10 million in the 2012 cycle, with almost $7.8 million going toward independent expenditures aimed at electing and defeating candidates.

McIntosh said the super-PAC targeted its spending towards female voters in the last cycle, in part by airing ads on Hulu before episodes of “Glee.”

Not to be outdone, labor unions are funneling millions of dollars into super-PACs that can be mobilized for federal and state races.

A super-PAC affiliated with the Service Employees International Union has almost $2 million in cash on hand, while a group affiliated with the United Auto Workers has nearly $8.8 million.

The NEA Advocacy Fund, created by the National Education Association, spent more than $9.1 million during the last campaign, on gubernatorial races in Montana, New Hampshire and Washington as well as in support of Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio).

“With the gridlock on Capitol Hill, our focus has turned more to state legislative races and ensuring that we elect pro-public education governors across the country,” said Karen White, the NEA’s national political director.

The NEA super-PAC has $172,000 in cash on hand, but that could quickly change.

“It’s too early to know how the field will shape up, but we are closely following the political landscape in several states next year,” White said.

Other labor unions are already working to shape elections via super-PACs. Workers’ Voice, the AFL-CIO’s super-PAC, directed cash to New Jersey state legislative races to limit the power of Gov. Chris Christie (R). 

“We left the legislature essentially where it was before the election, frustrating [Christie’s] ambitions,” said Michael Podhorzer, the AFL-CIO’s political director.

Workers’ Voice has more than $2.2 million in the coffers so far. Podhorzer said it was “too early to say” how much the group might raise for 2014, but said there are a number of races “up and down the ballot” that could receive attention.