By election day, the television airwaves will have been flooded this year by an estimated $1 billion in ads backing presidential and congressional candidates from super PACs and advocacy outfits.
Following the 2010 Supreme Court ruling in tandem with another high court decision that unleashed unlimited donations from corporations, individuals, and unions to outside organizations, GOP-allied groups have built a sizable lead in corralling seven-figure checks.
While the head of President Obama’s allied superPAC, Bill Burton—a former deputy White House press secretary—is well known to TV viewers, the right’s key players have kept lower profiles even as they’ve become influential players in many of this year’s most expensive and hard-fought contests. Here are three of the key figures in the GOP-allied electoral-money landscape.
Steven J. Law
Although GOP consultant Karl Rove cofounded the super PAC American Crossroads and an affiliated advocacy group, their day-to-day management has been overseen since early 2010 by Law, a smooth, soft-spoken lawyer and president of both groups.
Law, 52, was chief of staff to now Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell in part of the ’90s and twice ran the GOP’s Senate campaign committee. He served as a deputy secretary of Labor under McConnell’s wife, Elaine Chao, and spent nearly three years as general counsel of the US Chamber of Commerce.
Since early this year, the groups—which have indicated they could wind up spending close to $300 million—have regularly run ads blasting Obama-administration policies in presidential battleground states such as Florida, Ohio, and Virginia and spent heavily to sway key Senate races in these states and several others.
“Law fits the McConnell style,” says a veteran GOP operative. “Steven keeps the trains running on time and makes sure the strategy gets executed.” To that end, Law has been instrumental in leading a series of Crossroads-hosted meetings with a dozen or so allied groups to coordinate strategies and some spending with an eye to getting more bang for their bucks, according to attendees. And Law has also had a hand in the aggressive and successful Crossroads fundraising that Rove spearheads by promising would-be donors that their top spending priority is defeating President Obama.
Law, who according to tax records was paid about $600,000 in 2010, has also been involved in defending, as appropriate, tens of millions in ad spending by Crossroads GPS, its advocacy affiliate: GPS is legally required, as a “social welfare” tax-exempt group (whose application is pending), to allocate the majority of its funds to nonpolitical activities. But GPS, and a few other social welfare tax-exempts on the right and the left, have been criticized by watchdog groups such as Fred Wertheimer’s Democracy 21 for heavy spending on “issue” ads that carry political messages and mention candidates’ names. Wertheimer and others have urged the Internal Revenue Service not to formally grant GPS this prized tax status, which allows donors’ names to be kept secret.
Noble, a low-profile, Arizona-based consultant, has been instrumental in funneling tens of millions of dollars from conservative megadonors such as billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch to allied groups for their ad blitzes.
In 2009, after serving as chief of staff to then-congressman John Shadegg for a decade, Noble launched the Center to Protect Patients’ Rights, an Arizona advocacy group that in the last elections served as a piggy bank for allied groups on the right. He’s the “wizard behind the screen” for the Kochs and their network of wealthy donors, says a GOP operative who is familiar with Noble’s efforts this year to steer funds to conservative groups.
Noble operates under the radar but got caught in the glare of publicity after the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics dug up the health-care group’s tax forms for 2010. The records indicated that the outfit had dispersed more than $44 million to almost two dozen other conservative outfits, including the Koch-backed Americans for Prosperity, Grover Norquist’s Americans for Tax Reform, and the 60 Plus Association.
“Sean is the one who makes sure their investments adhere to the party line,” adds another GOP operative about Noble’s niche for the Kochs. The Center to Protect Patients’ Rights was a lucrative enterprise for Noble, too: His firm, Noble Associates, was paid more than $300,000 in 2010, tax records show.
The Center filed paperwork with the IRS earlier this year indicating that it was expanding its mission to include “limited government and free enterprise,” and Noble has attended a number of the conservative powwows hosted by American Crossroads. GOP operatives say Noble is again very active in channeling big bucks to conservative allies this year, but it’s unclear just how much he’s using the low-profile Center—whose address is a PO Box in Arizona—or whether he’s shifted to using another stealth advocacy group as a conduit. (Those details may only be clear when the Center files its 2012 tax forms with the IRS, many months after election day.)
Noble also runs DC London, an Arizona-based consulting firm with a Washington office that does a mix of corporate and political work—its services include robo-calls and some online marketing.
Since veteran political operative and lobbyist Scott Reed joined the US Chamber of Commerce as senior political strategist last year, he has helped the pro-business goliath amass a $50-million-plus war chest and helped oversee ad and direct mail blitzes to boost the GOP’s chances of winning the Senate and retaining its House majority.
Reed’s two decades of political experience made him an appealing catch to Chamber chieftain Tom Donohue: Reed served as executive director at the Republican National Committee in 1994, when the GOP won both houses of Congress, and managed Bob Dole’s presidential campaign in 1996.
After Reed came onboard, the Chamber decided to launch its earliest campaign drive ever, pouring millions of dollars into issue ad attacks in more than half a dozen states such as Missouri, Montana, and Ohio to weaken incumbent Senate Democrats who were deemed vulnerable. A GOP operative close to the group stresses that the early ad blitzes were part of Reed’s plan to “set the terms of the debate” on key issues such as health care and energy where the Chamber backs more private sector and less government involvement.
In another first, the Chamber this summer ran ads directly endorsing GOP Senate candidates, a shift prompted by court rulings that otherwise would have forced the Chamber to reveal corporate donors who have long prized the anonymity its tax status as a business association afforded them.
A few weeks ago, the Chamber began its latest round of ads with a seven-figure buy in Ohio which is part of a multimillion-dollar drive to knock off Senator Sherrod Brown, whose liberal voting record has made him the group’s top target, according to GOP operatives close to the business group. The Chamber has also recently spent hundreds of thousands on direct mail in Massachusetts, where it’s trying to defeat Democratic challenger Elizabeth Warren and boost Senator Scott Brown’s prospects.
Reed, 52, also participates in some of the Crossroads meetings and separately still runs his own lobbying shop, Chesapeake Enterprises, which represents energy, high-tech, and casino clients.
Peter Stone can be reached at email@example.com.