SuperPac American Crossroads says goal is win elections to improve quality of life
(CBS News) -- If 2012 is the election of the SuperPac, the American Crossroads is the grandfather, granddaddy and grand poobah of the entire class of outside political groups. With a goal of raising over $200 Million in this election, the group's president says their money goes a long way.
"We run it like a business, and to donors who want to invest in something where they can be sure their money is going to be spent wisely, they find it a very attractive place to be, in addition to the fact that we got some good results," said Steven Law, the President of both American Crossroads and Crossroads GPS in an interview with CBS News Political Director John Dickerson in an interview for Face to Face.
Last week the Democrat in charge of taking back the House of Representatives told CBS News that it was Crossroads that won the 2010 election for the Republicans. Law says the groups simply tapped into the mood in the country. "We started in 2010 when there was a lot of concern about the direction of the country and among the donor community there a sense that it was possible to do something about it and so we had a good start in 2010 and I think we had a big impact on the House and on the Senate," he said.
Crossroads, the Republican leaning group that has ties to former George Bush political guru Karl Rove and former Republican Party chair and now Mitt Romney campaign advisor Ed Gillespie, has faced criticism for raising and spending hundreds of millions of dollars in the 2012 and 2010 elections, taking advantage of changes to federal campaign laws as a result of the Supreme Court's decision commonly referred to as Citizens United.
Much of the criticism of the entire SuperPac industry is the fact that unlimited donations can be made to the groups. Additionally, only one half of the Crossroads brand even has to disclose its donors.
Many of the group's donors can remain anonymous because Crossroads GPS is a non-profit issue advocacy organization, whose goal is "pushing issues, usually very big ticket issues like the debt, the deficit, taxes, healthcare" said Law. The other group, American Crossroads started first, and is a traditional political action committee with regular FEC compliance rules for disclosing donors.
GPS, which stands for Grassroots Policy Strategies, has run hundreds of ads in this and the last elections introducing issues to voter. One recent ad, called "Too Much" hits President Obama over the price of gasoline. "No matter how Obama spins it, gas costs too much," says the announcer and without endorsing any candidate or saying vote against the President, the announcer asks voters to get involved. "Tell Obama, stop blaming others, work to pass better energy policies," says the female voice. The ad, which cost the group $1.7 million is running on television in six states that any novice political watcher would easily identify as key swing states in the fall election: Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Nevada, Ohio and Virginia.
"There are significant differences between the two groups. American Crossroads is a purely political organization. It can deliver a totally political message, which includes saying vote for or against somebody, and so it is the maximally effective political voice... the people who contribute to American Crossroads are disclosed. A lot of our donors aren't terribly concerned about that. We have some very large donors who contribute a significant amount and they are fully disclosed, they're not overly concerned about it," said Law. "But... there are some people who are concerned about a culture of intimidation. Increasingly, people feel like there are reprisals against people who get involved in the political process, so people might be concerned about that," he added.
Law says the groups tap into altruism of its donors.
"It's very much what you find on the left, you find people who have a lot of personal resources, a lot of discretionary income and they're really concerned about where the country is going, much of the same way that the donors on the left were concerned about the country's direction under former President Bush, and they have a passion for politics. They're not interested in any individual given issue, they're interested directionally, and they are most interested when they think there is a point in time when they think there is a possibility of turning things around and that's when they tend to get involved."
Law says many of them are also major donors to charities.
"What they all tend to have in common is a sense of obligation. A lot of them are self made. They've tasted some of the best of what the country has to offer and they've been successful and they want to give back... They see governance and government and policy as having huge ramifications for everyday people. It's certainly why I'm in the business I'm in, is because I see that being involved in the battle of ideas, being involved in what happens in Washington and in the states has huge ramifications for quality of life for people in this country. All of us want to try to nudge it in our direction," said Law, a former deputy secretary of the U.S. Department of Labor under George Bush and top official of the United States Chamber of Commerce.
Law says that while giving money to his groups will certainly help the conservative and Republican party lines, he hopes to get wealthy donors who have already given to the campaign and Republican National Committee.
"I mean if they could give to Mitt Romney, we'd certainly encourage them to do that. I mean that their first dollars ought to go toward candidate, toward the party committee, toward the groups who can spend money directly, but above and beyond the federal limits set in federal law, we'd hope they would support us, because we are very involved in that mission to and we want to make a good result happen in this fall."
Additionally, Law told Dickerson that the groups ads, run against Democrats from President Obama down to Senate and House incumbents and candidates, are focus group tested to ensure they achieve their desired effect.
"We've got to find ways to communicate so that we don't turn off the viewers so they are receptive to what we have to say and we have to actually spend a lot of time testing our ads, showing them to people in focus groups and that sort of thing, to get a sense for what people respond well to and what they don't," he said.
And yes, those focus groups include many former Obama voters as the groups are squarely front and center, playing a large role in their first big presidential election.
"It's a very different group of voters than we were trying to reach in 2010. In 2010, the turnout was going to be somewhat low, so it was all about persuading and motivating and energizing your base. In this election, a presidential election, it's all going to be about persuading people who are in the middle, who are not aligned," he said. "We've spent a lot of time talking to voters who supported President Obama in 2008, people who are not strongly aligned to one political party, and they're all over the map. I mean, some of them are Hispanic, some of them are women, college educated women, suburban people, white middle class voters, it's a very very broad cross-section, but the thing they all have in common is that they were for President Obama back in 2008, but they're not very certain about him now."
- Robert Hendin
Robert Hendin is senior producer for "Face the Nation" and a CBS News senior political producer.Follow on Twitter »
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