- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 15, 2011

Republican officials are getting a first peek at what’s being called a “sky’s the limit” approach to funding the party’s 2012 campaigns across the country - from the presidential race down to mayoral contests.

The timing couldn’t be better, given that the Republican National Committee is still nearly $20 million in the red 19 months before the 2012 elections and Republicans have no idea who will head their national ticket or whether the candidate will be any great shakes at raising funds.

“It could let us blow away the Democrats on money raising next year, instead of the other way around as it was last time,” Louisiana Republican National Committee member Roger Villere told The Washington Times.

In 2008, Barack Obama declined public financing for his presidential campaign and instead raised $800 million on his own, successfully earning a title change from “senator” to “president,” while Sen. John McCain of Arizona, whose campaign was financially broke, was forced to limit his general election spending to the $80 million that public financing allowed.

With that in mind, the Republicans designed their new fundraising weapon - dubbed Republican Super PAC (RSPAC) - to skirt the limits and regulations that the federal government and, in some cases, states impose on campaign contributions.

The RSPAC, revealed to the RNC’s other 165 members via email on Sunday, is an independent expenditure group structured to, in effect, give candidates the power to do their own fundraising while legally avoiding federal or state limits.

Independent expenditure groups in general are not subject to the same restrictions placed on the actual campaign.

“This is a legal way for them to maximize their fundraising efforts by directing earmarked contributions to the RSPAC,” said Indiana RNC member James Bopp Jr., a constitutional lawyer who masterminded the RSPAC with Mr. Villere of Louisiana and Oregon RNC member Solomon Yue.

The RSPAC’s creators know they don’t have a patent on their approach.

“Other people could do this, and we are happy to compete with them,” Mr. Yue said.

The RSPAC’s goal is not simply to edge out Democratic fundraising, but to dwarf all past financial contributions to political parties and candidates, including presidential campaigns.

About the only similarity between other independent expenditure organizations, including the successful American Crossroads, and the new RSPAC is that it also is legally designated as a “527,” which refers to a section in the federal tax code.

The RSPAC goes beyond other independent expenditure groups in both parties by empowering mayoral, state legislative, congressional nominees and the GOP’s presidential choice to seek unlimited contributions from donors who might gladly give $100,000 or more but have “maxed out,” having given the federal limit of $2,500 to the presidential campaign, $30,800 to the Republican National Committee and $10,000 to a state GOP.

Those maxed-out donors could give to American Crossroads (which has pledged to raise $120 million for 2012) or other independent expenditure groups but the incentive is different.

Crossroads spent more than $70 million, mostly in uncoordinated TV advertising on behalf of the GOP’s nominee for president as well as for other offices.

But while Crossroads and similar groups employ their own fundraisers, RSPAC will use local, state and federal office holders and seekers who may know personally five or 10 potential $100,000 donors who want to earmark their contributions.

RSPAC also will use state parties as fundraisers. State parties are expected to be eager participants because their donors are limited to $10,000 each.

For example, a maxed-out Missouri or Ohio donor who wants to give his state party $100,000 on top of the $10,000 already given may write a check out to RSPAC, which can then spend the money on phone banks and direct mail to get out the vote efforts - an effort that the state party would otherwise have to find the money to finance.

Using the RSPAC will relieve state parties of having to hire their own legal counsels for this unique approach.

The fundraising approach’s architects say the purpose of RSPAC is not to beat American Crossroads or any other independent expenditure group.

“Creating this independent expenditure PAC is not to compete with American Crossroads, which specializes in TV commercial ads, which are very expensive,” Mr. Yue said. “We want to focus on getting out the vote - boots on the ground in the form of paid phone bank and direct mail. It’s not very expensive, but it is very effective - and necessary in political warfare.”

• Ralph Z. Hallow can be reached at rhallow@gmail.com.

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