Super PACs next for Sanford and Colbert Busch?


Updated: 7:53 p.m.

With the race for a special House election in South Carolina now set, and polls showing it could be close, the outcome may partly hinge on who has the most money.

Both former Gov. Mark Sanford, who became the Republican nominee by winning a runoff Tuesday, and his Democratic opponent, Elizabeth Colbert Busch, a businesswoman who is the sister of TV satirist Stephen Colbert, are proving to be successful fundraisers in what could become a money dead heat. So whichever side gets more outside help may have the advantage.

Former Gov. Mark Sanford is vying for a seat in Congress

One new Democratic outside group, South Forward, has already entered the fray, launching a web ad nailing Sanford on ethics charges he faced while governor, The Hill newspaper reported; the group plans to run it on cable next week. Prior to that buy, the only outside groups to make independent expenditures in the race have supported two failed GOP candidates: Curtis Bostic, a former county elected official whom Sanford defeated in this week's runoff, and state Sen. Larry Grooms, who lost in Republican primary. The 60 Plus Association did phone banking on Bostic's behalf and the Coastal Conservatives Fund super PAC ran a television ad on his behalf. 

It seems reasonable to believe more outside givers might jump into the race because the Sanford and Colbert Busch campaigns are stocked with deep-pocketed donors, a number of whom have connections to super PACs and 501c4 organizations that have played big in earlier campaigns. Among the possible connections for Sanford, who is trying to make a political comeback in the congressional district he once represented after a sex scandal: Howard Rich, a secretive libertarian who leads at least a half dozen organizations, Wyoming mega-donor Foster Friess, and, David Koch, one of two brothers behind a network of conservative organizations.

Here are the outside groups best positioned to come to Sanford's aide:

The Club for Growth

Just days ago, Sanford's campaign got $5,200 from Howard Rich and his wife. Rich is on the board of the national anti-tax Club for Growth, perhaps the preeminent group that supports staunchly conservative candidates. The organization spent at least $18 million on candidate advocacy in the 2012 elections, a very conservative estimate because most advertisements by its 501c4 arm do not have to be reported to the Federal Election Commission.

Americans for Limited Government

Rich has a long history of trying to influence South Carolina politics. Rich's groups have given at least $1.7 million to Palmetto State groups, including money to South Carolinians for Responsible Government, which promotes one of his pet causes — school vouchers. As governor, Sanford unsuccessfully tried to give parents tax credits for enrolling their children in private school.

One of those organizations that donated to the South Carolina organization is the Rich-chaired Americans for Limited Government, which does not have to disclose its donors because it is a 501c4 organization. ALG funneled $2.6 million to Now or Never PAC in the 2012 race, which then used the money to oppose Democratic Senate candidates Tammy Duckworth, Sherrod Brown and Richard Carmona of Arizona. Duckworth and Brown won their races; Carmona lost to Republican Jeff Flake.

FreedomWorks for America

The group has a similar ideology to Club for Growth, and while it has been in disarray, at least one of its big donors from 2012 is a Sanford donor: Social conservative Foster Friess. Friess, who became known last year for his support of failed GOP presidential candidate Rick Santorum and his unusual views on birth control, gave $100,000 to the FreedomWorks super PAC last year. He made a $2,500 donation to Sanford just before the first round of voting in the GOP primary.

Liberty for All Action Fund

The super PAC spent about $1.8 million on candidate advocacy in the 2012 elections, and got a $50,000 boost from Rich.

Americans for Prosperity

The conservative organization is backed by the business magnate Koch brothers, one of whom — New York's David Koch, gave $2,500 to Sanford's campaign. While the organization focused almost all of its over $36 million in reported election spending last year trying to defeat Barack Obama — not elect individual congressmen — it did spend $1.3 million influencing House races in the 2010 election.

As for Colbert Busch, here are some possibilities:

House Majority PAC

One indicator that House Majority PAC, which spent $30.6 million helping to elect Democrats to the House in 2012, could become a possible funding stream: Colbert Busch got $5,200 from the Marilyn Simons, the wife of New York hedge fund billionaire Jim Simons, who was one of the Democratic outside groups' main underwriters in 2012. Jim Simons gave $1.5 million to the House Majority PAC.

Many other Colbert Busch's donors gave significant funding to the House Majority PAC. Among them are two big unions that each gave in the six figures to the Democratic group focused on winning back the House Majority: The International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers IBEW), and the Communications Workers of America (CWA). Another Colbert Busch donor — the American Association of Justice PAC, the trade group for trial lawyers — gave more than $400,000 to House Majority PAC.

Women Vote!

The American Association of Justice also backed Women Vote! to the tune of $130,000 last year. The pro-Democratic group spent $7.8 million on independent expenditures in the 2012 race backing women candidates. 


As Colbert Busch has a list of unions backing her campaign, it's possible that one of them would support her with independent expenditures. Among the Democratic nominee's labor supporters: the CWA, IBEW, and the Sheet Metal Workers International Union.

Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee or the Democratic National Committee

The DNC chair, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Fla., is already helping Colbert Busch raise money — with an April 15 fundraiser in D.C. It's unclear if either the DNC or the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, which issued a statement congratulating Colbert Busch when she won the primary, will get further involved. But one top House leader has been supportive — one of her campaign donors is Assistant Democratic Leader Jim Clyburn of South Carolina, who contributed through his leadership PAC.


(Photo credit: Sanford for Congress)

Note: The post has been corrected to reflect the accurate amount that Jim Simons contributed to House Majority PAC.