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
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
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
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.