Analysis Politics

Meet the Super PAC Targeting Democrats in Special Elections

Ally Boguhn

A review of the candidates supported by the Congressional Leadership Fund in 2016 reveals a stringently anti-choice roster whose positions on abortion can hardly be considered centrist.

As Democrats and Republicans battle in special elections across the country, one outside spending group is flooding the races with cash. The Congressional Leadership Fund (CLF), a super PAC with ties to Republican leadership in the U.S. House of Representatives, has turned its sights to the race to replace now Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price in Georgia and Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke in Montana.

The super PAC released an advertisement in March targeting Democrat Jon Ossoff in the special election for Georgia’s 6th District seat in the U.S. House—marking its first entrance into the 2018 midterm election cycle.

Voters in the state will take to the polls on Tuesday for an all-in primary that allows the top two candidates to advance to the June runoff regardless of which party they belong to if no one candidate initially wins more than 50 percent of the vote. Ossoff is one of five Democrats running against 11 Republicans hoping to make their name in the crowded field of candidates, but he already has a list of progressive organizations behind him and impressive fundraising numbers.

Among the ads released by CLF targeting Ossoff is one that seemingly attempts to link the Democrat to terrorism and Osama Bin Laden.

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In Montana, where Republican anti-choice donor Greg Gianforte and Democrat Rob Quist are running in a special election scheduled for May 25, CLF has pledged at least $1 million for advertising and efforts to get out the vote, according to the Wall Street Journal.

A press release from the super PAC claims that CLF played a “small part” in this month’s Kansas special election, where Republican Ron Estes narrowly notched a victory against pro-choice Democrat James Thompson. CLF made more than 100,000 live calls to voters in the state to push them to the polls, according to the press release.

CLF describes itself as “a super PAC exclusively dedicated to protecting and strengthening the Republican Majority in the House of Representatives,” on its website. Founded in 2011 and supported by House Republican leadership, CLF “spent over $11.5 million on House races and helped Republican candidates achieve victory” in 2014.

The super PAC is run by Corry Bliss, most recently known for managing Republican Sen. Rob Portman’s winning campaign in Ohio. Before that he managed Linda McMahon’s failed bid for the U.S. Senate in Connecticut in 2012. McMahon, the former CEO of the WWE professional wrestling franchise who now heads the Small Business Association for the Trump administration, claimed to be a pro-choice Republican while on the campaign trail despite supporting anti-choice restrictions on reproductive health care and abortion.

Though CLF’s website doesn’t make any mention of its stance on reproductive rights, it does say it “supports candidates who promote the values of the center-right majority in the House of Representatives.” A review of the candidates the super PAC threw its weight behind in 2016 reveals a stringently anti-choice roster whose positions on abortion can hardly be considered centrist.

That includes helping elect a member of the far-right House Freedom Caucus, which has worked tirelessly to impede access to reproductive health care. CLF spent $50,000 in independent expenditures opposing Iowa candidate Monica Vernon in her race against caucus member Republican Rod Blum.

In Utah, CLF spent $316,030 opposing Democrat Doug Owens in his failed efforts to unseat Republican Rep. Mia Love. Love is a consistent anti-choice vote in the House. She gave a speech about her opposition to abortion during the 2017 March for Life and sat on Rep. Marsha Blackburn’s (R-TN) so-called Select Investigative Panel on Infant Lives, which sought to investigate allegations made by anti-choice front group Center for Medical Progress (CMP). CMP falsely claimed Planned Parenthood profited from fetal tissue donations, but multiple investigations into the matter have found no evidence of wrongdoing by the reproductive health-care provider.

The super PAC spent more than $1.4 million opposing Colorado Democrat Morgan Carroll in her race against incumbent Republican Mike Coffman. During his time in Congress, Coffman has repeatedly voted to defund Planned Parenthood, and though he later said he supported exceptions to abortion bans once he became a candidate for federal office, he is reported to have previously opposed them. Coffman in 2011 co-sponsored the No Taxpayer Funding for Abortions Act, which would have made permanent the Hyde Amendment’s ban on most federal funding for abortion care and notoriously attempted to use “forcible rape” language on abortion exceptions.

The American Action Network (AAN) gave the organization the bulk of its funds in three March donations totaling $3,592,631, according to CLF’s 2017 first-quarter filings with the Federal Election Commission. That’s because CLF is the “sister super PAC” of AAN—both groups share Bliss as executive director. The two spent a “combined $48 million in independent expenditures in 32 U.S. House races” in 2016, according to a press release.

American Action Network is a 501(c)(4), which means it does not have to disclose its donors.

Other CLF funders during the first quarter of 2017 included GEO Corrections Holdings, Inc., a subsidiary of for-profit prison and immigrant detention company GEO Group. GEO Corrections donated to a super PAC supporting Trump during his campaign for president, and GEO Group later gave $250,000 for his inauguration according to a report from USA Today. The company gave CLF $100,000 in early March.

Energy-related companies and groups including Exelon, Chevron Policy Government and Public Affairs, and the American Petroleum Institute also contributed funds. So did members of the health industry, such as pharmaceutical company Amgen Inc. and insurers Anthem, Inc. and MetLife.

During the 2016 election cycle, CLF’s roster of donors included mega-donor Sheldon Adelson and his wife Miriam, who each gave $10 million to the super PAC, according to data pulled from the Center for Responsive Politics’ OpenSecret.org.

Other notable donations: more than $1.5 million from Robert McNair, who helped fund the opposition to a 2015 LGBTQ anti-discrimination effort in Texas; $250,000 from McMahon; and more than $1 million from billionaire Paul Singer.

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