Arguably the most influential political advertisements so far of the 2012 cycle -- ads that helped topple Newt Gingrich from GOP presidential frontrunner to out-of-the-money finisher in Iowa on Tuesday -- were produced and purchased by a super PAC that purports to be making "independent expenditures" in the campaign but that has plenty of connections to Mitt Romney.
Restore our Future, a super PAC established and operated by a group of Romney's former staffers and supporters, spent $4.1 million before the Iowa caucus on an ad blitz aimed largely at Gingrich, the former House speaker who once appeared to be Romney's most formidable rival for their party's presidential nomination. As his poll numbers plummeted late in the Iowa campaign, Gingrich called on Romney to put a stop to the ads and accused him of trying to "buy an election." In his concession speech in Iowa, Gingrich signalled that the ad campaign has given Romney a voluble and implacable enemy heading into New Hampshire, a state where the former Massachusetts governor must do well.
The super PAC at the heart of the feud that promises to dominate the fight for New Hampshire last week reported raising more than $12 million the last time it filed with the Federal Election Commission -- six months ago. Restore Our Future led a number of other super PACs last month in changing its filing status with the FEC, guaranteeing that they will not have to reveal donors until the end of January, by which time voters in four crucial early contests already will have gone to the polls: Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Florida.
MORE: Check out the Sunlight Foundation's interactive roster of presidential super PACs here.
Little information about the group is available on its website, which instead features written and video attacks on President Obama and Gingrich. But three of the group's board members are closely connected to Romney: Carl Forti, who served as political director of Romney's 2008 campaign; Charles Spies, Romney's former chief counsel and Larry McCarthy, a GOP ad man who worked for the Romney campaign four years ago and is also known for producing the Willie Horton commercial that helped sink 1988 Democratic presidential nominee Michael Dukakis.
Among the contributors that the super PAC disclosed over the summer in its first and, so far, only comprehensive financial report to the FEC were a number of longtime Romney friends and backers, including Edward Conard, a former top executive at Bain Capital, the investment firm Romney helped found, and J.W. Marriott Jr., whose hotel consortium is a lobbying and campaign finance powerhouse that has made Romney its chief beneficiary. Until recently, Romney was a member of Marriott's corporate board.
Since registering with the FEC more than two years before the 2012 presidential election, Restore Our Future has been airing ads attacking Romney's leading Republican opponents and praising Romney. So far most of the spending that the organization has reported to the FEC has been in Iowa, but it has made expenditures in South Carolina and Florida, two other states that will hold primaries this month.
Here's one of Restore Our Future's ads attacking Gingrich:
You can see the rest of the ad campaign that put Gingrich on the warpath, here.