POLITICS

Groups Supporting Jeb Bush, Chris Christie Aim To Be 'Forgettable'

04/21/2015 07:00 am ET | Updated Jun 21, 2015
Scott Olson via Getty Images

By Emily Flitter

NEW YORK, April 21 (Reuters) - It's hard to remember whether Republican presidential hopeful Jeb Bush's super PAC is called America Rising or Right to Rise. The independent political group will likely raise hundreds of millions of dollars to back the former Florida governor's bid for the White House, but it's not meant to attract attention.

The Bush super PAC is in fact Right to Rise. America Rising is another political action committee, unconnected to Bush, that plans to raise and spend unlimited sums of money, although it does share one goal in common with Right to Rise: to defeat Hillary Clinton's bid for the Democratic nomination in 2016.

They also share some thematic similarity with the group supporting another Republican presidential hopeful, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker (Our American Revival), which isn't too different from groups advocating for potential candidates New Jersey Governor Chris Christie (America Leads) and former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee (Pursuing America's Greatness). (Graphic: http://reut.rs/1D8Z25I)

The bland sameness of the names means that tens of millions of Americans may not realize who funded the television advert they just watched denigrating or trumpeting a particular candidate. A few blinks, and the names all run together - just as they're supposed to, strategists told Reuters.

"Super PACs aren't Coke and Pepsi; they're not even Democrats or Republicans," said Carl Forti, co-founder of the Republican political strategy group Black Rock Group. "You don't necessarily want it to be a brand."

That's because many of these groups want to stay in the background while spending hundreds of millions of dollars to support their candidate or their cause. A group that spends most of its cash on vicious attack ads, for example, can hide behind the anodyne gloss of a name that is easily forgotten or confused.

So far, PACs supporting Republican presidential hopefuls are getting the most attention because Clinton, the clear Democratic front-runner, doesn't have one.

The best super PAC names convey commitment to a vague ideal without using language so electrifying or catchy that it could make the name stick too long in public memory.

FORGET YOU SAW THIS

The goal is to come up with "forgettable and almost randomized combinations of generic political keywords," said Michael Cornfield, an associate professor of political science at George Washington University.

That has been taken to new heights by a new trend in the 2016 election cycle - super PACs that have been created as vehicles for extremely wealthy individuals, often billionaires, to pursue pet issues or back candidates. These PACs don't want to attract attention because they don't need more donors, strategist said.

The best example of this are the four super PACs formed recently to support Texas Senator Ted Cruz's presidential bid. All have the same name: "Keep the Promise."

Keep the Promise I, II and III are all backed by different individuals who have contributed a combined $31 million. This format will allow the backers to keep their assets separate, thereby maintaining control over exactly how the money is spent, said Dathan Voelter, who is managing the group of PACs.

There is another trend: unlike in 2012, the PAC names today sound more hopeful and forward looking.

"In 2012, many super PACs had names that promoted conflict or struggle, focusing less on the future and more on a troubled present day," said Michael Wissot, a Republican strategist who consulted for the super PAC American Crossroads, run by former George W. Bush advisor Karl Rove.

"In 2012 the leadership was so determined to defeat the left-wing incumbent (President Barack Obama) that we never fully developed our own narrative," Wissot said. "The 2016 Republican super PACs have names that imply a clean slate, a new beginning."

Former Texas Governor Rick Perry's PACs are an example of that change in emphasis. In 2012, the PAC backing him was called Make Us Great Again. This time, the super PAC for Perry is called the Opportunity and Freedom PAC.

"That's aspirational," said Perry's close friend and supporter Allen Blakemore, a political strategist in Texas.

Blakemore knows the perils of a bad PAC name. During the 2014 congressional elections one of his employees, acting independently, registered a super PAC with a name no one could forget: Boats 'N Hoes. The employee quickly dissolved the PAC amid widespread criticism. (Editing by Ross Colvin)

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