A new Miami-based super PAC has surfaced with billboards opposing President Barack Obama in south Florida and plans to plant more in at least two other battleground states before Election Day. Backed by mostly Republican, pro-Israel activists, American Principles super PAC has spent about $220,000 so far and plans to spend $500,000 this election.
It's one of a number of pop up super PACs that are emerging just before the November election, barraging voters with advertisements before having to reveal any information about financial backers. American Principles will release its first list of donors by Oct. 20. The treasurer for another such super PAC aimed at Florida voters, Treasure Coast Jobs Coalition, declined to comment for this article.
American Principles Super PAC's spokesman, Eytan Laor, declined to name the group's donors, but conceded that most are pro-Israel Republicans. He characterized them as “concerned individuals” and “small business corporations.” Spending decisions are made by a small group of people, including Laor, and no one person is in charge, he said.
The group believes in “American exceptionalism,” a foreign policy that distinguishes enemies from allies, conservative monetary and fiscal policies, and limited government intervention in the private sector, according to a press release.
Laor is also raising money for pro-Israel Republicans in Congress though a traditional PAC—which must abide by contribution limits unlike super PACs. It is also called American Principles PAC and has raised raised close to $200,000 this election cycle, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. Despite the identical names and the fact that both committees share donors and Laor's labor, he insisted there is a clear distinction between the PAC and super PAC. The super PAC is about opposing Obama and electing select Republicans in 2012 and is not about Israel, Laor maintained. They have "no connection," he said.
The controversial, anti-Obama billboards on the I-95 Corridor in south Florida show the price of gasoline rising two dollars from Obama’s first day in office to today and a depiction of Obama’s apparent bow to the king of Saudi Arabia, an event which some conservatives criticized in 2009.
Laor said the super PAC has also just erected billboards praising Rep. Allen West, R-Fla., who is in a close race in south Florida. Despite what he describes as a "longstanding relationship" with the outspoken freshman lawmaker, a darling of pro-Israel Republicans for his hawkish stance on American policy in the Middle East, Laor said it's unlikely his group will engage in more spending on West's behalf. He predicts the congressman will easily win reelection. West's race is ranked a "toss up" by political handicapper Charlie Cook.
West's race has been a magnet for outside money–to the tune of $3.1 million, according to Sunlight's Follow the Unlimited Money tracker. Treasure Coast Jobs Coaltion, whose Washington-based treasurer James E. Tyrrell, III declined to comment for this article, has dropped nearly $1 million since last month to oppose West's challenger, Democrat Patrick Murphy, and has so far not disclosed its donors. Two recently-formed super PACs have come to Murphy's aide: American Sunrise, funded by the candidate's father, and the Florida Freedom PAC, a multi-million dollar voter outreach effort mostly funded by the Service Employees International Union; each started spending a few months ago.
Virginia and Iowa will be the next states to get the anti-Obama gasoline price billboards, Laor said. The super PAC will also be targeting one Iowa congressional race with ads but he declined to say which one because of federal election coordination rules, which bar cooperation on independent expenditures between campaigns and independent groups.
In recent months, Laor said he introduced a couple of people to the Iowa campaign his super PAC will be helping and has talked to campaign officials, though not about the independent expenditure. Once the super PAC announces the campaign expenditure, he said, “That starts the clock ticking,” and he can't communicate with the campaign he wants to help.
Laor claims that his traditional PAC has donated four Iowa Republicans. The only one who has gotten money from the PAC in this election cycle, according to FEC public records to date, is firebrand conservative Steve King, who is facing a close reelection battle that has attracted over $2 million in outside money, according to Follow the Unlimited Money.
Laor, who grew up in Rockland County, N.Y., is a former commercial real estate investor. The PAC’s treasurer is the Tampa-based Nancy Watkins, who Laor called the “PAC queen” of Florida GOP committees and was recently profiled by the Palm Beach Post.
But a few years ago, Laor “just kind of dove into politics and kind of got deeper and deeper.”
He started his involvement with a pro-Israel PAC called Florida Congressional Committee that supported Democrats and Republicans but found that some donors did not want to give to Democratic candidates, and has since only worked to help Republicans.
Over the years, Laor has given just over $10,000 to Republican candidates and committees, most recently to Rep. Connie Mack, who is running for Florida’s Senate seat, according to Influence Explorer. That by no means makes him a heavyweight donor but his traditional PAC (not super PAC) is more influential.
American Principles PAC hosts fundraisers for members of Congress, as he did for Lt. Gov. Abel Maldonado in California, who is trying to unseat Democrat Lois Capps. Laor said he is frequently in Washington at GOP fundraisers. The group has donated about $90,000 for the 2012 election to federal candidates, 99 percent of which went to Republicans, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
But that amount pales in comparison to the half million dollars in independent expenditures that the super PAC plans to drop.