Campaign intelligence: Pop-up PACs

Closeup photo of Iowa Democratic Rep. Bruce Braley on blue background
Bruce Braley is the target of a new $1 million dollar ad campaign led by former Romney campaign staffers

November’s general election looms and outside spending has topped $380 million. Here are a few stories we’ll be keeping our eyes on in the coming weeks:

Iowa Romneyites’ second showing

Priorities for Iowa Political Fund, a super PAC offshoot of an eponymous nonprofit, filed its first report of campaign spending Oct. 3 at the FEC. The social welfare organization was launched by former hands from Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney’s 2012 campaign and has dogged Democratic Rep. Bruce Braley since he announced he was running for Senate in 2013. This is the first money we’ve seen from the new super PAC, however, which chipped in $1 million to the political feeding frenzy that is the Iowa Senate race.

That money is going toward for an attack ad against Braley, the early favorite to succeed Iowa’s retiring Sen. Tom Harkin, a Democrat. But Braley is now embroiled in a tight race with Republican state Sen. Joni Ernst, a military veteran who has also made, ahem, hay emphasizing her farm upbringing.

Braley faced a barrage of negative ads after video surfaced of the congressman warning campaign donors that a Democratic loss in the Hawkeye State Senate race would see “a farmer from Iowa who never went to law school, never practiced law, serving as the next chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee,” referencing Iowa’s other veteran senator, Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley.

The new Priorities for Iowa ad wasn’t available at publication time, though TV contracts from a Cedar Rapids station suggest the new campaign was to launch Tuesday.

The super PAC lists the Des Moines office of conservative communications firm Red Wave Communications as its address. Sarah Craig, a Red Wave consultant and former Virginia state manager for Mitt Romney’s 2012 campaign, is the treasurer. A voicemail left at Red Wave Communications was not immediately returned, though the PAC will have to disclose its donors on Oct. 23, when committees must file their pre-election reports at the FEC.

Meanwhile, the group’s 501(c)4 nonprofit arm also just unveiled another anti-Braley ad, this one a 15-second spot dinging the congressman for paying his female staffers 30 percent less than their male counterparts.

The newest ad blitz nudges the total reported spending in that race to nearly $40 million, making it the third-most expensive Senate race in the country behind contests in North Carolina and Kentucky.

Construction workers union breaks new ground

Already an influential player in the super PAC world, the Laborers’ International Union of North America recently laid the foundation for a super PAC of its own, apparently not content to play a background role in federal elections.

Billing itself as the “the most progressive, aggressive and fastest-growing union of construction workers,” the union boasts a membership of half a million workers on its website. In recent years, however, the organization has run afoul of some other groups on the left of the influence sphere over its support for building the Keystone XL pipeline, which would mean jobs for its members.

In April, Sunlight reported on the the group’s support for former GOP Rep. Steve LaTourette’s Defending Main Street, a union-subsidized super PAC that backs “main stream” Republicans against more conservative challengers.

Defending Main Street spent nearly $500,000 successfully defending Rep. Mike Simpson, R-Idaho, a Keystone backer and chair of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Energy and Water Development.

In recent weeks, the Laborers’ International has also been pressuring Congress to invest more in America’s infrastructure, supporting a long-term reauthorization of the Highway Trust Fund.

Requests for LiUNA to comment on why it’s starting a super PAC went unreturned.

Issue ad reporting not overly burdensome

Finally, on the regulatory front, the D.C. District Court dismissed a legal argument brought by the Independence Institute that the reporting of electioneering communications as stipulated by the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act (BCRA) constituted “unconstitutional regulatory burdens.” The Colorado-based libertarian think tank said the regulation should not apply to a 60-second radio ad it planned to run, mentioning the state’s Democratic senators, Mark Udall and Michael Bennett. Udall is up for re-election this year and is considered one of the most vulnerable Democrats in the country.

While “issue” advertisers are not generally required to disclose their donors to the public, there’s an exception for money given to underwrite issue ads that run 30 days before a primary or 60 days before a general election.

The disclosure regime for issue advertisers was a central pillar of BCRA and one of the few tools for illuminating otherwise dark election money.