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Super-PAC gives boost to Huntsman with ad buy

- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 17, 2011

A lower-tier presidential candidate is hoping big bucks can carry him to prominence on the Republican stage as rivals' weaknesses emerge. A super-PAC supporting former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. has spent a whopping $805,000 since Monday, disclosures revealed Thursday.

In typical elections, money is both a measure of support and a means of attaining it. A steady stream of small donations signals a base of sure voters, and when enough funds are collected, they can purchase ads to broaden that pool.

The 2012 election is shaping up to be anything but typical. Polls have pegged Mr. Huntsman at 2 percent of likely primary votes or less, and a late entrant in the race, the former ambassador to China's campaign has raised only $2.2 million from supporters, compared with $32 million by Mitt Romney and $17 million by Rick Perry.

In the post-Citizens United age of unlimited independent funds, one wealthy supporter may give enough to render those dollar figures less relevant, however, and the massive ad buy is fit for a far more established candidate.

Monday's $700,000 payment from the pro-Huntsman Our Destiny PAC to Colksy Media is by far the largest independent expenditure in the presidential race. Ads began running in New Hampshire the next day. The next-highest expenditure yet also came Monday, in the form of a $275,575 ad buy from the Perry-backing super-PAC Make Us Great Again.

The new independent groups can accept and spend donations of any size — as contrasted to a $2,500 cap on donations to official campaigns — as long as they do not coordinate with the candidates.

But independent groups increasingly close to candidates have raised eyebrows and questions. While direct coordination can be difficult to detect or prove, recent groups are controlled by operatives so close to candidates that constant communication may not be necessary to be on the same page.

Major expenditures by outside groups are disclosed in real time — communicating strategy to the campaign as well as the public — but the names of the wealthy people funding the groups are disclosed only twice a year.

There is reason to suspect, however, that a major funder of the $805,000 buy may be Mr. Huntsman's father, Jon Huntsman Sr., one of the richest men in Utah. The super-PAC was established by Thomas Muir, an executive at the Huntsman Corp., which was founded by the candidate's father.

If so, the rules against coordination could make for awkward conversation around the dinner table this Thanksgiving.

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