Transcript: Face to Face with Steven Law


Nancy Cordes: Hello and welcome to Face to Face. I am Nancy Cordes and I am joined today by American Crossroads President Steven Law. Steven, thank you so much for talking with us today.

Steven Law: Great to be with you.

Nancy Cordes: Everyone's talking about the new fundraising totals just announced yesterday. The Mitt Romney campaign along with the RNC raised I believe it was $101 million in July, easily out raising the Obama campaign which raised about $75 million. What's your take on that?

Steven Law: Well as we look to the fall, we think that Mitt Romney's going to have a significant, at least financial parity, if not, advantage over President Obama which will be helpful to him. This period right now is very different though because Mitt Romney had to win a competitive primary. The amount that he can spend during this period is substantially less than what Obama has had and Obama's tried to use that to his advantage.

Nancy Cordes: This is the third straight month that Mitt Romney has outraised President Obama. Is this just sort of the natural course of things, he becomes the nominee, everyone solidifies behind him, and perhaps President Obama catches back up in the fall or do you think that it signifies something larger?

Steven Law: Yeah I think that it signifies that there's a lot of enthusiasm on the Republican side. We've seen this with our donors but we've also seen it with rank and file grassroots voters who are very fired up and energized about this election, more so we think than your average Democrat rank and file voter or donor.

Nancy Cordes: When you add in the outside groups of course it's probably not even close. Obviously the conservative groups like yours have so much firepower. How much are you intending to raise this cycle?

Steven Law: Between last year and this year we'll raise a total of $300 million dollars, we'll spend roughly two-thirds of that towards the presidential effort. However that will end up being dwarfed by what organized labor puts on the table so we think there will be a rough parity on both sides in terms of outside efforts on either side.

Nancy Cordes: Do you think conservative spending is going to be dwarfed by organized labor?

Steven Law: Certainly ours will be and I think if you take a look at--

Nancy Cordes: But if you add up all conservative groups together that's a different story, right?

Steven Law: I think if you put all our groups together and you put on the other side what labor unions, environmental groups, and other groups like that, the trial lawyers will spend on their side and I then think you compare overall spending by President Obama versus Mitt Romney I think it will not be tremendously out of whack on either side.

Nancy Cordes: And at the end of the day, if one side raises a total of one billion, the other side raises 1.2 billion, does it even matter who raises more, is it just funny money at that point?

Steven Law: I think at some point there is a law of diminishing returns. Our goal always has been to equalize the playing field. In days past, the Republicans and groups on the right were vastly outspent by groups on the left, so just achieving parity for us or something like that, hopefully even a small financial superiority to us is success.

Nancy Cordes: You said recently that groups like yours coming in prevents this race from being a killing field for the Romney campaign and its fundraising, why do you say that?

Steven Law: Well during this period, we knew that President Obama was going to use his very substantial funding advantage to try to focus attention away from himself, away from his own record and onto Romney. And that's clearly what he's tried to do. Now our mission has been to just pull people back to the key problems and issues our country faces. And our viewpoint, which is that President Obama not only has failed to fix those problems but he's actually made things worse.

Nancy Cordes: Is there any distinction at this point between money raised by the campaigns and money raised by outside groups like yours? Is your message any different?

Steven Law: I think there's some significant differences. I think a candidate can say and do things through advertising through the campaign that outside groups cannot. For example, you see President Obama on TV now with a 60 second ad where he's talking directly to the camera. Mitt Romney can do that sort of thing and in a way and each of them connect to voters in a way that our outside groups cannot. So I think there is a significant difference. We can frame out issues, we can kind of build an issue frame for voters to look at as they think about the decisions in front of them. But we aren't the candidate and we don't confuse ourselves with the campaign.

Nancy Cordes: There's been some concern among Democrats that the Obama campaign is being outraised this summer and that it's spending money at a rate even faster than it's bringing in, at least during June, we don't have the July numbers yet. Given all the fire power that groups like yours are able to bring to this race, do you think that the President is going to have enough money to compete in the battleground states?

Steven Law: Oh I assume he will. I assume he'll have the resources between him and the outside groups that will be funding him. The one challenge he has that you referred to is that he does have a very, very high carrying cost within his campaign. I mean he's hired social scientists and bloggers and huge numbers of staff, probably the largest presidential election staff we've ever seen in history, now the future will show whether that was a really smart use of money or a huge waste of resources that should have been spent in other ways, we just don't know that right now but he does have a gigantic burn rate at this point.

Nancy Cordes: Do you worry that at some point all these millions of dollars that you have to spend on ads will actually end up backfiring? I mean it's only August and already voters in Virginia are just watching wall to wall campaign ads and they're sick of them. How are they going to feel in November?

Steven Law: Well I think that really goes to the issue of how you communicate. And that's really an important point. We try to be very careful in terms of how we communicate. We try to run creative ads. We try to grab people in new and interesting ways. I think that the biggest challenge is going to be for President Obama who has run a campaign in July that would ordinarily be the kinds of ads you'd run in October. And I don't know what else he's going to be able to turn to by the fall after he's spent really all his effort trying to run down Romney right now.

Nancy Cordes: Are you concerned that voters are going to get turned off of the entire political process if they're watching wall-to-wall ads between now and November maybe they're just going to tune it all out?

Steven Law: Well voters you know, looking at voter behavior over the years I'm always interested to see and impressed to see how voters eventually find the key issues that matter to them to cast their vote. And it makes the issues that we're supporting or the issues the other side is supporting, but they're able to finally grab those bits and pieces of information that really matter to them. We provide as much information as we can. We try to make it accurate, we try to make it interesting but in the end the voters really do have the choice to make and I think they will.

Nancy Cordes: Is it your goal to force the President to spend so much time on the fundraising circuit that he doesn't have time to campaign in battleground states?

Steven Law: Well he's been doing that already and he's been combining both a lot and he did that long before we started spending. Our mission right now has been fairly simple which is that while President Obama has tried to use this period to his advantage when he's had a significant funding advantage, that we wanted to keep people focused on the core issues--the debt and the economy and President Obama's record. And if we're able to do that consistently, people come out of this period saying, my concern is about where the economy and the debt are going and how President Obama has performed on those issues, we think that's a success.

Nancy Cordes: So are those the issues that you're going to be focusing on in your ad campaign?

Steven Law: Well certainly we are right now. And we'll probably continue that as we look into the fall. We'll also be talking a little bit more about the Obama health care law and how that's going to impact families' employer provided health insurance. But those are the main issues. You know, again, our view is the country has got really serious problems. We're concerned about the economy and we're concerned about the debt. And in our view, President Obama not only hasn't fixed those problems, but he's made them worse and that's what people should be concerned about.

Nancy Cordes: When I ask you where that $300 million is coming from, you're going to tell me that you have thousands of small donors who have been giving and I'm sure that the case. But the lion's share of your money is coming from multi-million dollar donors. Is this what the political process is supposed to be about?

Steven Law: Well these are people who cannot give to the parties or to the candidates. We have to operate independently. And the same is true on the other side that large donors give to these outside groups including groups that President Obama's own staff has raised money for. And most of the people who support us are just concerned about the direction of the country and are looking for ways to express it and we translate that into information to voters that we think is helpful.

Nancy Cordes: So they have every right to spend as much as they want just like a small donor if they can afford $100 or $200, they have a right to spend that money too?

Steven Law: They do. I mean if you look at the campaign finance debate that happened about ten years ago when the law was passed that we now live under, one of concerns that was expressed was that if you shut off the amount of money that can go towards candidates and political parties, it will flow out in these other directions and that's precisely what's happened. But in the end we think that more information, more competitive information on either side ultimately serves the voter in the best way and that's what we're aiming to do.

Nancy Cordes: Steven Law, President of American Crossroads. Thanks so much for joining us on Face to Face today.

Steven Law: Thank you too Nancy.

Nancy Cordes: And thank you for watching, don't forget to tune into CBS News on Sunday to watch Bob Schieffer on Face the Nation. Thanks for joining us again, have a great day.