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Odd couples: Gingrich casts wide net to evangelicals, Tea Party and K Street lobbyists

Posted: 12/07/2011 2:04 pm

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As Newt Gingrich resurrects his once moribund campaign, his fundraisers and outside allies are moving aggressively to rake in millions of dollars and win backing from the evangelical and Tea Party communities.

To achieve these daunting goals, three long-time allies of Gingrich--Florida fundraiser Gay Gaines, former spokesman and conservative Christian activist Rick Tyler, and Las Vegas billionaire Sheldon Adelson--are shaping up as important players. 

Gingrich's political fortunes in the upcoming Iowa caucuses and the early primaries in New Hampshire, South Carolina and Florida hinge heavily on getting his message out to potential supporters through TV ads and outside organizations that will require millions of dollars, fast.

The campaign was in the red at the end of the third quarter to the tune of about $1 million and still has sizable debts, although it raised $4 million by mid-November as Gingrich re-emerged as a force in the Republican field. The campaign is on a fundraising rampage, hosting several events in the last week inside the Beltway, in New York and in South Carolina. The target audience at each: K Street lobbyists, Tea Party supporters and  evangelicals.

Gaines, a national finance co-chair, sounded upbeat about poaching backers of Mitt Romney, whose campaign had raised some $32 million at the end of September.

"In the past week, we've found that some Romney supporters have begun to understand he can't get any traction," Gaines, who ran Gingrich's political committee, GOPAC, in the mid 1990s, told iWatch News.

Gaines said she plans to host high dollar fundraisers after Christmas in Florida, and is tapping other long-time Gingrich money harvesters for their rolodexes too. One example: Joseph Fogg, another financial angel of Gingrich who runs the investment firm Westbury Partners.

Turning to Super PACs

Facing heavy time and money pressures, some of the major donors who pumped $52 million in less than five years into Gingrich's now defunct political committee, American Solutions for Winning the Future, are expected to play a pivotal role in funding allied super PACs. These donors can provide unlimited donations to newly created super PACs that will be helping Gingrich in key states, but legally must operate independently of the campaign.

A Gingrich financial backer told iWatch News that there are other super PACs than the one that is public, Solutions 2012, which is backing Gingrich directly. Charlie Smith, a founder of Solutions 2012, said the super PAC has a budget of $10 million but declined to say how much has been raised. Smith said the group has retained Jerry Seppala, a Minnesota-based fundraising consultant who has worked for House Majority Leader Eric Cantor. The PAC's first TV ads are slated to run in Iowa before the holidays. 

Some other super PACs, such as the Florida-based Spirit of America Solutions, won't formally endorse Gingrich, but will back him indirectly with a kindred conservative message to voters, according to two leaders of the PAC who worked for the Cain campaign until late October.

"Gingrich's values align with our vision," said Craig Bachler, the national operations director of Spirit of America Solutions. Bachler was in charge of grassroots work in 13 counties in Florida for Herman Cain. "He's the true conservative in the race. He walks the walk and talks the talk."

The super PACs are expected to score six-figure or larger checks from some of Gingrich's oldest and most reliable supporters, including Adelson, the casino owner whose net worth has been pegged at over $20 billion.

Two GOP fundraisers close to Gingrich and Adelson said the tycoon is still firmly backing Gingrich. Adelson is expected to provide solid financial help to a super PAC.

Adelson gave more than $7 million--more than any other donor--to American Solutions for Winning the Future.

Ron Reese, a spokesman for Adelson and his casino, said Adelson doesn't comment on his political activities but added, "It's no secret they (the two men) have a long standing and deep relationship."

Rounding up Tea Party allies

Gaines said she and others are trying to unite as many disparate Tea Party groups as possible. "We want to get everybody together," Gaines said. On Tuesday, Gaines met in Florida with several Tea Party leaders and groups to urge them to back Gingrich. "I love the Tea Party. They're passionate and patriotic," Gaines said.

Further, Gaines added that she's reaching out to Jewish leaders and groups, a historically significant voting bloc in Florida.

Tyler said Gingrich forged good ties with Tea Party groups before his campaign even began. Tyler said Gingrich did periodic "conference calls with 300 Tea Party leaders for a few years."

Last weekend Gingrich spoke at a Tea Party rally on Staten Island in New York. "I was for the Tea Party before there was a Tea Party," he told attendees.

A new Gallup poll shows 8 in 10 Tea Party supporters think Gingrich would be an acceptable GOP nominee. Yet Gingrich's cachet with the Tea Party may collide with his long track record as a Washington insider in the decade after he left Congress. From 2001 through 2010, two of the major for-profit pillars of what's called Newt Inc.--the Gingrich Group, a consulting firm, and the Center for Health Transformation, a think tank--racked up revenues of $55 million from some 300 clients and members.

The Center, whose members included health care giants like Wellpoint and the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, provided various kinds of advocacy services for dozens of companies that paid annual fees up to $200,000, according to its website. In a press release last month, the Center insisted none of its work involved lobbying by Gingrich or others.

Gingrich has maintained strong backing on K Street from former House colleagues like Bob Livingston and Robert Walker and former aides who have gone into lobbying. The two former congressmen are among more than a dozen lobbyists who are hosting a money bash Wednesday night at the Occidental restaurant in Washington.

Former aides in the lobbying trenches are bullish about Gingrich's new momentum. "The conservative base is coalescing and veterans of the GOP revolution of 1994 are coalescing around Newt," said Dan Crowley, a former counsel to Gingrich and now a financial services lobbyist with K&L Gates.

Gingrich courts evangelicals

On another vital conservative front, conservative Christian activist Tyler said evangelicals have been working in Iowa and South Carolina--independently of the campaign--to mobilize evangelical pastors to undertake voter registration and get out the vote efforts.

These religious efforts are not touting Gingrich specifically, but with conservative candidates like Cain dropping out or fading badly, this project could yield handsome dividends.

"We're encouraging pastors to educate their congregations on issues," said Tyler, who prior to the Gingrich campaign ran a nonprofit for the Georgian that helped forge ties with religious conservatives.

On Thursday, in Greenville, S.C., Gingrich will address a luncheon event that should draw hundreds of local pastors, Tyler said. The South Carolina event is being organized by David Lane, an evangelical activist who has worked in several states including Iowa on similar get out the vote religious drives, Tyler said. "He's encouraging pastors to understand their biblical roles and to educate their congregations to get the vote out," he said.

While Gingrich seems to have made progress in winning evangelical hearts and minds, there are still serious questions that have been raised by prominent religious conservatives because of his two divorces and three marriages.

Richard Land, the president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, said that "in the evangelical and social conservative world, the chief beneficiary of Perry and Cain's implosions, has been Newt Gingrich."

But Land stressed that "Gingrich has a gender gap with evangelicals that deals with his turbulent marital history," where men are willing to give Gingrich the benefit of the doubt since he's apologized, but evangelical women still have major concerns. Land recently wrote an open letter to Gingrich urging him to give a major speech to help allay these doubts among evangelical women.

Asked about such criticism, R.C. Hammond, a spokesman for the campaign, said that "Newt's been very open about answering any questions that voters have put to him. "

Where PACS can help

But getting Gingrich's message out to potential voters to answer nagging questions will be big tasks that the campaign will have to undertake quickly. Here, super PAC allies can offer crucial support with social conservatives.

Michael Phillips, the executive director of the fledgling Spirit of America Solutions PAC who coordinated grassroots efforts in Florida for the Cain campaign until late October, said they hope to raise millions to help conservative candidates including Gingrich. Phillips said that his PAC will assist grassroots groups in promoting their conservative issues, like free markets and strict adherence to the Constitution.

Phillips said the PAC plans to work closely with several other super PACs that are already up and running. For instance, his group will team up with an older super PAC that was set up by about 20 doctors in the Midwest and so far has raised several million dollars.

These joint operations will focus heavily on using phone banks in key states, starting this weekend in New Hampshire and then later this month in Iowa, South Carolina and Florida, Phillips said. The phone banks won't mention Gingrich by name, but will urge voters to get out and vote for the most conservative candidate.

Further, Bachler and Phillips said the PAC will work with a few other super PAC allies to organize rallies in Iowa and upcoming primary states, tapping into a conservative network of volunteers, to build support for core issues.

Continue this story and read more investigations at iWatch News

 

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