With the departure of Sen. Jim DeMint in January the Senate Conservatives Fund entered a transformational period and with all such occurrences any certainty about the organization’s direction was unclear. While it is likely still evolving there are disturbing indicators of that new direction and mission.
Last cycle was a reasonable financial success for the SCF with almost $16 million coming in and $10 million going out to candidates, though their only real victories were Senators Ted Cruz in Texas and Jeff Flake in Arizona, with Stenberg (in whom the SCF invested heavily) and Neumann losing in the primaries, and the rest of their principal beneficiaries losing in the general.
But that was 2012 and this year it has been well documented that many conservative organizations and Tea Party groups have seen their fund-raising numbers drop, and the SCF is no exception.
In the first six months of 2013 total receipts lagged the same period in 2011 by more than $600,000; disbursements as a percent of receipts had jumped from 71% to 91%; and total contributions to candidates was down by almost 30%, though this number is relatively slight in the first six months of any cycle. Also cash on hand had dropped from $1,723,842 as of June 30, 2011 to $1,337,357 in 2013.
Graphically the comparison of the first halves of 2011 and 2013 looks like this:
Not the prettiest of pictures but the third quarter would dramatically reverse that trend and that is where many questions about mission, money and motivation arise.
Primarily by riding the wave of the defunding ObamaCare sentiment that was championed by Senator Cruz and his allies on their summer road show, the SCF parlayed their affiliation with the senator into a banner quarter for fund-raising with almost $4.3 million in receipts.
On the surface this would seem phenomenal and contributors in that period would easily assume they were helping to put the SCF in a position to support numerous conservative candidates. But that’s not exactly what happened and what did happen raises more questions about the SCF’s new direction.
Considering disbursements of more than $3.9 million with a paltry $6,728 contributed to one candidate, and a House candidate at that, the question that begs to be asked is where did the 93% of receipts go?
Well more than $2.5 million went to, in FEC speak, NON-CANDIDATE ISSUE ADS but virtually every one of them was also a plea for contributions; just over $1 million was spent on fund-raising costs and consultants; and curiously $224,135 was spent on two book purchases.
Certainly there can be value associated with educating the public with issue ads but were these ads more about that, or indirectly assailing Republicans whom the SCF dislikes and seeking more donations. If it was about issues then was it necessary to spend 60 cents of every dollar received on such ads more than a year before the next election?
With regard to the two book purchases made in October, using more than 10% of that month’s receipts, a spokesperson at the SCF declined to comment on the record when asked in an email what were the title, author and purpose intended for the books.
The bottom line is 93% of what came in the front door in receipts went out the back door in disbursements with virtually none of it to candidates.
By category here are the ten largest areas of disbursements from July 1, 2013 to September 30, 2013 (see Methodology below for details):
By payee here are the ten largest disbursement payees from July 1, 2013 to September 30, 2013 (see Methodology below for details):
It is the second largest recipient of proceeds from the SCF, Jamestown Associates, which has been at the center of a recent storm precipitated by the SCF’s motivation to unseat incumbent Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, even though he scored a perfect 100% from The American Conservative Union in 2012.
In an FEC filing on October 30 the Senate Conservatives Action PAC disclosed a payment to Jamestown in the amount of $332,228 for ads against McConnell. On the same day the SCF disclosed they had expended $12,659 on behalf of their endorsee, Matt Bevin, who is challenging McConnell in the Kentucky primary.
This brings into focus the question asked earlier about what is the new mission of the SCF since it would seem any Senator who is considered a “Senate Defender of Liberty”, the highest recognition afforded by the ACU, would not be a target for a self-proclaimed supporter of conservative values. Is it simply because the Republican Leader failed to capitulate to the SCF’s preferred but flawed strategy regarding the defunding of ObamaCare and stopping the government shutdown?
The FEC disclosure prompted a New York Times article, Republican Campaign Committee Pushes Back Against Conservative Group, in which when asked to comment Brad Dayspring of the NRSC had this to say:
“We’re not going to do business with people who profit off of attacking Republicans. Purity for profit is a disease that threatens the Republican Party.”
The purity for profit concept goes back to the issue of what is the new mission of the SCF. By spending more than $300,000 on attack ads against a Republican who is currently a prime target of displeasure for donors to the SCF, while only putting a pittance in the coffers of their own candidate, the action reeks of playing to raising more money and not addressing real politics.
McConnell is by no means alone in the targeted ire of the SCF. Consider in April 2012 Sen. DeMint, then still head of the SCF, was noted in a Roll Call article expressing his support for then candidate Jeff Flake, whom the SCF backed financially in his successful campaign.
In a letter to his Senate Conservatives Fund, a political action committee dedicated to electing conservatives to the Senate, DeMint wrote that “nobody has done more to advance the cause of freedom than Jeff Flake.”
Yet in August 2013, the SCF posted on their website, New Radio Ad Calls on Jeff Flake to Oppose Obamacare Funding, attacking Flake for failing to unflinchingly support their flawed demand to defund ObamaCare. Is this the behavior of an organization that genuinely cares about the politics or just another ploy to sing to their choir while asking for more donations?
Returning to the purity for profit concept and the new direction of the Senate Conservatives Fund there clearly can be a case made that politics of any nature is slipping into the back seat, while raising more money to attack more Republicans whom the SCF just doesn’t like is sliding behind the wheel.
If that is the new mission of the Senate Conservatives Fund then they are entitled to it by all means in a capitalist world but they might do well to consider the greater ramifications, and they might also fully consider the impact of their primary beneficiary, Sen. Ted Cruz, stating he will not participate in Republican primary battles.
Nobody or no group within the Republican Party is going to get everything they want but spending millions on bashing fellow Republicans will do nothing but help the Democrats maintain the majority in the Senate, and if you don’t win you can’t legislate.
Methodology: All numbers cited in this article were obtained directly from the FEC filings made by the Senate Conservatives Fund. The categories displayed in the one chart were assignments by the author to create a small group of similar expenses for easier understanding. Some numbers may not equate exactly to the FEC filings due to small irregularities in the data but are within 1% plus or minus, and some numbers may not add up exactly due to rounding.