Transcript: Face to Face with Steven Law
John Dickerson: Welcome to Face to Face, I'm John Dickerson. I'm here with Steven Law, President and CEO of American Crossroads and American Crossroads GPS. Tell me the difference between the two of those, let's start there.
Steven Law: OK, sure, American Crossroads was started first. It's a political action committee, they refer to it as a Super PAC and it can be involved in politics 100 percent of the time. Crossroads GPS or grassroots policies strategies, is a 501(c)(4) issue advocacy organization. Its business is pushing issues, usually very big ticket issues like the debt, the deficit, taxes, healthcare, things like that.
John Dickerson: And I already butchered it by calling it American Crossroads GPS, it's not that. It's just Crossroads GPS.
Steven Law: Yes, that's right.
John Dickerson: So now you've had a pretty good success raising money. You are considered the, sort of, the big actor on the block. Why have you been so successful?
Steven Law: Well, I think, first of all, 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. And in addition to that, I think that our model is something that appeals to the donor community. We have very, very low overhead. We don't pay commissions to fundraisers. 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.
John Dickerson: Who are the donors? When people think of where this money comes from, who, what is the typical donor, what should people ---?
Steven Law: 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.
John Dickerson: And so now though that we have two nominees, two candidates at the top of the presidential race, why does a donor give to you and not say to Mitt Romney, who would pretty much be in line with the thinking behind American Crossroads?
Steven Law: Well, sure, 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.
John Dickerson: And also one of the differences between American Crossroads and Crossroads GPS, is that if you donate to Crossroads GPS, because it's about issues, the donors are not disclosed, is that right?
Steven Law: That's right.
John Dickerson: Is it better in a year when you're running against an incumbent, if you're giving your dollars, to give it to Crossroads GPS, because even though you're not advocating because of the rules as they stand...in an issue ad, you're really not advocating for one side, but if races against incumbents are essentially a referenda on the incumbent, and I want to get the most bang for my buck, and also stay anonymous, shouldn't you give to GPS just as kind of a strategic manner?
Steven Law: Well, 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. You're right that 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. But you're right, 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.
John Dickerson: You mentioned reprisals, I'll ask you a question that I asked your counterpart, at least in positioning over on the left, which is that when I talk to voters, they complain about the ads they constantly see. And a lot of them talk - both on the left and right - about just the saturation, and they blame the outside groups, so you would be in that category. What do you say to people who say, 'All of this money that goes into these ads, it's just, I'm sick of it.' What do you --
Steven Law: Well, there are a lot of people who run ads obviously.
John Dickerson: Yeah, it's not all you.
Steven Law: The candidates, the parties and other people run ads. The unions will run ads. There is a huge number of people getting involved in the battle of ideas. I say really two things, one is ultimately what we're about is trying to communicate information and we've got to find ways to do that effectively. And the other thing I'd say is that to some extent they have a point, and that is that 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. We've found, for us at least, we need to make sure that we run ads that are not, that don't just simply convey the information that we like, but convey it in a way that people will be receptive to it.
John Dickerson: I was talking to a political strategist who said with ads these days if you're not being called out by one of these fact check groups, you're not doing it right. Which is to say that -- in the ads, that basically, both sides are saying things that are just totally political and not sort of meeting the standard of the truth test. What's your view on that?
Steven Law: I'm not sure I agree with that. I think, for particularly groups like ours, if you're a candidate, you have a Constitutional right and a statutory right to have your ad up on the air no matter what you say. For groups like ours, we can be challenged, our ads can be knocked off the air if they can be shown to be untruthful. We are very proud of the fact that all of our ads have been on the air, even those who have been challenged, because we put a lot of effort into the factual underpinnings. I think people are increasingly sophisticated consumers of political information. And if they see and ad that either contains something that sounds completely untrue or is conveyed in a way that has a lot of obvious rhetorical hyperbole to it, or where there are obvious you refute it using third party validators like the press, PolitiFact and others. I think you can lose credibility and I think you can lose the battle of ideas if you do that.
John Dickerson: Last week I talked to the Democrat in charge of the Congressional campaign committee and he said had it not been for crossroads, 2010 wouldn't have happened the way it did, it wouldn't have gone so badly for the Democrats. What's your response to that?
Steven Law: Well, I appreciate him saying it, but I don't think it's just us. I think one of the things actually that was a critical factor in 2010 was that, and for this I think we do deserve a little credit, is that we were able to bring together a lot of different groups that all had the same mission in mind, and particularly as it pertained to the House, we were able to legally share our plan, share our strategies, divide up the playing field, so that we weren't all running to the same ball and therefore duplicating efforts. I think it was that effort where we were able to spread out the number of groups involved, make sure that we were maximizing the use of our resources that achieved the results, particularly in the House.
John Dickerson: You mentioned that you do focus groups, you pay attention to where the voters are and where this country is, what's the target you're trying to hit? What's the voters who are persuadable, who are not enthusiastic about the president but who haven't yet signed up for Mitt Romney, or for any of the Republican candidates at the Senatorial level, what's the target like? What is that voter looking for and need to hear?
Steven Law: Sure, well, first of all, I'd say 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, as you say, they haven't made up their mind. 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.
John Dickerson: Last question is, there's a lot of ways to spend money and it seems that I guess the question is, somebody who's got money to spend and they want to do some good with it, should they be giving to American Crossroads or Crossroads GPS or is this just for kind of the politically interested, if they want to affect change in their world, where would you put your organization in the kind of larger span of where people give their money when they want to affect the world they live in?
Steven Law: Well, I'd certainly put it way at the top. I think it's actually an interesting question, because a lot of people who give to politics, interestingly enough and this is true on both the left and the right, a lot of them tend to give to other causes as well. They tend to be supportive of their communities and things like that. 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, and certainly one of the areas that unites people on both the left and the right to get involved in politics is they see politics as part of the direction of the country. 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.
John Dickerson: Alright, Steven Law, thank you so much.
Steven Law: Thank you.
John Dickerson: Steven Law of American Crossroads and Crossroads GPS. I'm John Dickerson, be sure to join Bob Schieffer on Face the Nation on Sunday.
- Gates knocks "cartoonish" Benghazi criticism
- "Face the Nation" Sunday, May 19
- Maya Angelou recalls her childhood on Mother's Day
- Official: We knew Benghazi was a terrorist attack "from the get-go"
- "The witch hunt continues" on Benghazi, Durbin says
- May 12: Gates, Pickering, Ayotte, Durbin & Angelou
- Face the Nation: Local Listings
- Face the Nation transcripts May 12, 2013: Gates, Pickering, Ayotte, Durbin, and Angelou
- Pickering: Wasn't "necessary" to question Clinton in Benghazi report
- Face the facts: A fact check on gas prices
- "Face the Nation" transcripts, September 16, 2012
- Direct U.S. military involvement in Syria "would be a mistake," says Gates
- Attkisson discusses "allegations of a coverup" on Benghazi
- Face the Nation transcripts May 5, 2013: Benghazi and gay athletes - Issa, Rogers, Ruppersberger
- Roberts switched views to uphold health care law