As it drives to regain political power, the Republican
Party depends on what goes on behind the closed doors of
an austere 12th-floor office suite in downtown
The office is marked only by a sign reading "American
Crossroads" and "American Action Network." But behind the
nondescript entrance is the headquarters of a new
political power: a fundraising operation that has pulled
in more than $32 million this year, as well as
sophisticated marketing, research and advertising
operations - all aimed at getting Republicans elected to
the House and Senate.
The organizations have been created outside the official
party apparatus. They duplicate almost all the functions
of the traditional GOP while often taking advantage of
legal provisions that allow them to conceal the names of
those who foot the bill.
American Crossroads and its affiliates are the offspring
of George W. Bush administration strategist Karl Rove and
other senior GOP leaders who once worked within the
regular party structure, especially the Republican
National Committee and its tradition-encrusted
headquarters near the Capitol.
Other independent groups - such as Americans for
Prosperity and FreedomWorks - have sprung up with
operations often tailored closely to the wishes of their
conservative supporters, some of them billionaire
businessmen. Crossroads officials say they work with more
than 20 other conservative organizations, including the
U.S. Chamber of Commerce and Americans for Tax Reform, to
make sure money is spent effectively.
Many of the new groups were formed after the Supreme
Court's Citizens United decision last year, which made it
easier for corporations and unions to spend directly on
political causes. New groups formed on the left and
right, but the dramatic growth has been on the right.
Some, including American Crossroads, organized initially
under a provision of the tax code that required them to
disclose their donors. Later, however, Crossroads added a
nonprofit affiliate, Crossroads GPS, that does not have
to disclose its donors. Crossroads GPS, the U.S. Chamber
of Commerce and Americans for Prosperity do not disclose
the names of donors, and they are growing rapidly.
On the Democratic side, labor, environmental and other
allied groups have long worked on behalf of the party's
candidates. But the Democratic-leaning groups have
usually functioned as informal partners with the party
organization, while this year's conservative
organizations have largely rejected the leadership of the
Republican National Committee and its Capitol Hill
For many veterans of GOP politics, the Republican
National Committee under its controversial chairman,
Michael Steele, has been ineffective in fundraising and
providing manpower in battleground races.
The new organizations appear to have stolen a march on
the Democrats. Organized labor and other
Democratic-leaning groups are only now running
commercials with significant campaign-related messages.
As of last week, more than twice as much had been spent
on television ads favoring Republican candidates as had
been spent on ads for Democrats ($36 million to $16
million), according to the Campaign Media Analysis
American Crossroads and Crossroads GPS have already run
millions of dollars in advertising in nine Senate races
in California, Illinois, New Hampshire and other states.
Washington state and Florida ad blitzes are likely to be
Crossroads expects to move heavily into more than two
dozen House races, including those in Ohio, Pennsylvania,
Florida and possibly California.
Some of the $31.6 million raised by Rove and his allies
for the Crossroads groups also is going into a
grass-roots campaign network that promises unprecedented
coordination with business and conservative groups,
strategies to monitor new early voting rules and a new
database that will allow precise targeting of likely
conservative voters. It would then generate 20 million
phone calls and 40 million pieces of mail to get them to
Steven Law, a Bush administration and campaign veteran,
runs the Crossroads groups. Former RNC Chairman Mike
Duncan serves as Crossroads board chairman. In the same
suite, Norm Coleman, the former Minnesota senator, runs
American Action Network, which hopes to raise $25 million
So far, the conservative groups have raised and spent
more money than labor and the Democrats, even though the
latter went into the campaign season with a clear
Democrats acknowledge that the independent conservative
groups are making a difference. A memo circulating among
House Democrats shows that as of Sept. 14, outside
Republican groups had reserved air time for $22.4 million
in advertising in key House races, compared with
Democrat-aligned groups reserving just $3 million through
mid-October for the same contests.
In Colorado, American Crossroads, the Club for Growth and
the U.S. Chamber of Commerce sponsored ads last week for
Ken Buck, the Republican Senate candidate. Only one
group, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, was
on the air for Democratic Sen. Michael Bennet.
In Nevada, American Crossroads took credit for buoying
Republican Senate candidate Sharron Angle, with
approximately $2 million in ads in her race against
well-funded Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. "Our ads
helped keep the race competitive after the primary when
Reid was going for an early knockout," Law said.
In California, where Sen. Barbara Boxer has enjoyed a
fundraising advantage over Republican challenger Carly
Fiorina, outside groups have helped Fiorina close the
Boxer's campaign manager, Rose Kapolczynski, said the
outside groups essentially provided "$3 million in free
advertising for the Fiorina campaign" at a time when
Fiorina didn't have the resources to go on the air
The antiabortion Susan B. Anthony Fund plans to double
the $3 million it spent nationally in 2008, including $1
million to defeat Boxer. Already Crossroads GPS has aired
$1 million worth of advertising. The U.S. Chamber of
Commerce plans to spend several million dollars against
Boxer, and other conservative groups have made pledges as
"This is why this may last longer and be more competitive
than Barbara Boxer's previous races," said political
science professor Bruce Cain of UC Berkeley. "In the
past, you could close out the opposition by building up a
lead early on and then donors would stop giving."
Kapolczynski said the influx of outside money has had an
upside in helping galvanize Boxer's supporters,
particularly after ads aired sponsored by Crossroads GPS,
with its known ties to Rove. "Karl Rove coming into
California to campaign against Boxer was a wakeup call to
a lot of our supporters," she said.
Jim Jordan, a former director of the Democratic
Senatorial Campaign Committee, said spending by the
Republican-allied groups this year had led him and a
group of other Democrats to form their own organization,
"Being outgunned six or seven or eight to one in
independent expenditures really is a recipe for disaster,
especially in this political climate," Jordan said.
His group, which discloses its donors, is up with its
first ads - in Missouri and Washington state. But it is a
small start against Crossroads and Crossroads GPS, which
plan to raise more than $50 million.
Times staff writer Maeve Reston in Los Angeles
contributed to this report.