Super PACs and other outside groups are on track to spend more on tea party favorite Richard Mourdock in his battle to unseat Sen. Richard Lugar in Indiana's Tuesday Republican primary than Mourdock's own campaign, records show.
Lugar, a moderate known for his expertise in foreign affairs and national security, is in danger of seeing his 36-year run as a senator come to an end. Mourdock, the Indiana state treasurer, was leading Lugar by 10 points in a Howey/DePauw Indiana Battleground Poll released Friday.
Through the most recent campaign finance filings with the Federal Election Commission, outside groups supportive of Mourdock have spent about $3 million, $1 million more than Mourdock's own campaign.
A total of $4.5 million has been spent on the race on independent expenditures so far, the most on a congressional race this season and a possible preview of elections to come.
"It's difficult to believe that Mourdock would have seriously threatened a six-term senator had he not had strong backing from the super PACS and other outside groups," said Larry Sabato, director of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia.
Sabato added that outside groups such as super PACs can be more influential in a U.S. Senate or U.S. House race than they can be at the presidential level.
"Voters get tons of free news coverage about the presidential candidates," he said. "But often their only frequent sources of information about congressional candidates come from TV ads."
Super PACs and certain nonprofits are permitted to accept unlimited contributions from corporations, unions and wealthy individuals and spend the money on advertising to help elect or defeat a candidate. They were made possible thanks to the U.S. Supreme Court's Citizens United decision and a lower court ruling in 2010.
They are not permitted to coordinate their spending activities with the candidates but can run ads that are virtually indistinguishable from those run by the candidates -- except for the disclaimer at the end.
The top spender by far supporting Mourdock has been super PAC Club for Growth Action, an anti-tax organization unafraid to attack Republicans it considers to be too liberal on spending. It has spent about $1.5 million attacking Lugar and supporting Mourdock.
Barney Keller, the communications director of the Club for Growth said the organization was supporting Mourdock because he would "vote to cut taxes, eliminate wasteful spending and shrink the size of government."
Club for Growth Action's top supporter is Virginia James, an investor from Lambertville, N.J., who gave the group $1 million in January. James was personally thanked for her donations to conservative causes by the billionaire Koch Brothers, according to Mother Jones magazine at an event in 2011.
Other big donors include investment adviser Robert Arnott of Newport Beach, Calif., who gave $500,000 and tea party favorite Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.), who transferred $500,000 from his campaign to the super PAC in February, as the Center for Public Integrity previously noted.
The National Rifle Association spent nearly a half-million dollars helping out Mourdock. The NRA spending comes from its regulated political action committee. Unlike a super PAC or nonprofit, donations to the PAC are limited and must come from members of the organization. And no corporate or union money is allowed.
A Club for Growth ad says Lugar "voted for bailouts, tax hikes and Obama Supreme Court justices." The NRA says Lugar is the only candidate in Indiana with a grade of "F" from the group.
The pro-tea party super PAC FreedomWorks for America spent about $580,000. A new group, called "USA Super PAC," spent nearly $100,000 on a mailing supporting Murdock. This new super PAC is connected to GOP super lawyer Jim Bopp -- who hails from Terre Haute, Ind., and has made a career out of challenging campaign finance regulations.
Democrats consider Lugar to be a more formidable opponent than Mourdock as evidenced by a Democratic super PAC called "Majority PAC" that spent $32,500 on online ads opposing the incumbent senator.
Lugar, meanwhile, has also had support from super PACs, having seen $1.5 million in outside spending by his allies, records show. Moreover, his campaign has outraised Mourdock's, having brought in $5.9 million over the past six years.
Two super PACs materialized to support Lugar's candidacy: "Indiana Values Super PAC" and "Hoosiers for Jobs." Despite their names, neither is from Indiana. Indiana Values has a Washington, D.C. address while Hoosiers for Jobs is in Sacramento, Calif.
Nor has either PAC relied on money from Hoosiers. According to a Center for Public Integrity analysis, 90 percent of the Indiana Values Super PAC's money has come from donors outside of Indiana, and out-of-staters are responsible for two-thirds of the money Hoosiers for Jobs has collected.
In an act of political hubris, Hoosiers for Jobs (formerly Hoosiers for Economic Growth and Jobs) ran an ad criticizing Mourdock and his support from outside groups. Two fifty-something, flannel-clad actors accuse Mourdock and "some D.C. special interest group, Club for Growth" of "trying to buy our Senate seat."
Hoosiers for Jobs received a $25,000 contribution from 7-Eleven Inc. on April 17. Corporations are permitted to fund super PACs, but such donations have been relatively rare. It may be tied to Lugar's support of retailers in a battle with banks over debit card swipe fees last year and the fact that his daughter-in-law is a lobbyist for a retail trade association on whose board the president of 7-Eleven also sits.
7-Eleven spokeswoman Margaret Chabris said Lugar "understands our issues" and has a strong record for supporting small businesses. "Plus, he is popular among our Indiana franchisees," she added.
For his part, Mourdock has been fueled by enthusiasm from tea party activists, as well as money from the banking industry, which is getting some payback for Lugar's vote.
Bank political action committees have donated $19,550 to Mourdock's campaign. Lugar, meanwhile, has gotten PAC contributions from the Retail Industry Leaders Association (RILA), the National Association of Convenience Stores, the National Retail Federation, McDonalds, Wal-Mart, Walgreens and Target.
The Indiana Values Super PAC has spent more than $450,000 on TV ads bashing Mourdock, and Hoosiers for Jobs has spent about $175,000 -- also all on negative ads against Mourdock.
In addition to 7-Eleven, other big donors to Hoosiers for Jobs include former lobbyist Roy Pfautch of St. Louis ($50,000); Sam Fox, the St. Louis-based GOP fundraiser who served as President George W. Bush's ambassador to Belgium ($25,000); and Jim Morris, the president of the Indiana Pacers NBA basketball team ($25,000).
Meanwhile, the top donor to the Indiana Values Super PAC is hedge fund executive Mark Dalton of Greenwich, Conn., who has donated $100,000. The No. 2 donor to the super PAC is its treasurer, Andrew Klingenstein, whose wife, Julie, is a former aide of Lugar's. Klingenstein has donated $25,395 to the Indiana Values Super PAC as of the most recent filings with the FEC.
Former Goldman Sachs executive John Whitehead has given $25,000 to the super PAC, as has Andrew Klingenstein's father, investor John Klingenstein. Andrew's brother, Thomas Klingenstein, has given $10,000.
Two politically active nonprofits have also spent money on ads designed to aid Lugar's re-election quest: the "American Action Network," which is headed by former Sen. Norm Coleman (R-Minn.), has spent more than $645,000, and "YG Network, Inc.," a group started by former aides to House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.), has spent more than $200,000.
Unlike super PACs, nonprofits are not required to publicly disclose their donors.